We live in a compensation culture where people sue at the drop of a hat for even the most trivial injuries.
In order to make a successful claim for personal injury compensation you have to prove that you have been hurt or injured. Unless the evidence supports the claim the case has no chance of success, ever, period. Spurious damages claims may grab the headlines but they will never see the light of day in court. Anyone can claim compensation but it’s the follow-through that counts and the papers never report on the half-baked claims that never succeed.
We are only concerned here about real people who have suffered real injuries.
The fact is that many people still don’t realise that they have a right to claim compensation if they have been hurt or injured in an accident that wasn’t their fault.
We know from research carried out by the Citizens Advice Bureau that over 60% of people entitled to make a claim for compensation fail to do so. From our own experience, we find that many people who go on to become clients of the firm are unsure about making a claim for a variety of reasons. It’s our job to help accident victims and their families understand their rights and guide them through the legal process.
We understand that some people are affected by the myth of a ‘compensation culture’ and may be concerned about what family and friends will think if they make a claim. Passengers injured in a car driven by a family member or a friend can become distressed by the very thought of seeking damages and workers can be unwilling to claim against their employers.
People who claim compensation for personal injury are just looking for a source of extra money
The key issue for the injured person and their family is whether they can afford not to seek damages, particularly if they are unable to continue working or have to change jobs as a result of their accident.
In any event, the amount of money awarded is far from being a ‘lottery’ win. In the UK damages in personal injury cases are based on very precise calculations, refined over many years, which reflect the extent of the injury and the earning capacity of the victim. The process is designed with one aim in mind – to put the injured party back to where they were before the accident. Thus a twisted ankle claim will not attract a multi-million pound sum, whereas a brain-injured survivor of a road traffic accident might well receive a very large sum of money to pay for a lifetime of medical care.
The insurance company will look after my interests – they have already offered me a cheque.
Insurance companies are not registered charities. They have a statutory duty to their shareholders to maintain and enhance their levels of profitability and that means they will fight to totally repudiate or reduce the value of your claim.
It is not uncommon for accident victims to receive an offer direct from an insurance company in the immediate aftermath of their injury and before the full extent of any physical damage has been assessed ‘in full and final settlement’ of their claim. The motivation behind this offer is to reduce the insurance company’s costs by enticing accident victims with a tempting sum of money which is designed to prevent any future claim. Once this money has been accepted that’s it – claim over, regardless of any medical complications yet to be diagnosed.
Claiming compensation is costly and difficult.
Like any legal process, making a claim for compensation requires a certain level of expertise and experience. That’s what specialist personal injury lawyers are trained to do. The best lawyers will review your case totally free of charge, take on all the work and negotiate on your behalf with the insurance companies and their representatives. If they lose the case you pay nothing, if they win your case you will normally pay a pre-arranged percentage of your award.
Although the vast majority of claims settle out of court, it is vital that your case is thoroughly prepared and ready to go to court if required. Make no mistake, you need an experienced personal injury solicitor on your side who will push the insurance company’s legal team to settle your case in your favour, not someone who will sit meekly by and accept whatever is on offer. Going to court can be a bit daunting but your solicitor will be with you every step of the way to give you all the help and support you need.
A 100% compensation deal is better than ‘no win no fee’ if my lawyer takes a success fee.
Anybody can say yes to an insurance company’s initial offer. If you are on a 100% compensation deal you will get 100% of that sum, no problem, or is it? You should consider the value you place on your lawyer’s expertise and track record – check them out. The best lawyers know how to win the big awards and they are well resourced to take on the insurance industry and after all, 80% of £10,000 is considerably more than 100% of £5,000.
If you do decide to make a claim you have a bewildering choice of compensation claims ‘specialists’ lining up to help, so what do you need to consider before you lift the phone?
1. Can I claim?
If you have been hurt or injured in an accident within the last 3 years that wasn’t your fault, or if you have been diagnosed with an industrial illness or disease within the last 7 years, you are entitled to make a claim. There are special time limits applying to claims made on behalf of children.
The key phrase is: ‘entitled to make a claim’. Whether or not your claim is successful is dependent upon the strength of the evidence and the skill, experience and commitment of a specialist personal injury solicitor who will help you decide if your claim is worth pursuing in the first place.
It is vitally important to let a qualified solicitor advise on the merits of your claim. Over the years we have been able to secure substantial awards for people who thought that their actions, or lack of action (e.g. not wearing a seat belt) would drastically reduce the value of their damages or even cause their claim to be thrown out altogether. So, if you don’t want to get injured twice, get proper legal advice.
2. Who should I talk to?
There is no substitute for experience. If your injury is serious and your claim is undervalued you run a real risk of compromising your family’s financial future. Even relatively minor claims in the wrong hands can cost the accident victim several thousand pounds in ‘lost’ damages.
3. Solicitor or claims company?
It’s not quite that simple.
Many solicitors in general practice will take on personal injury cases but you have to ask yourself if they have the expertise to handle your claim. A solicitor who deals with house sales and family law matters in the morning is perhaps not the best person to be handling your personal injury claim in the afternoon.
Some specialist personal injury firms who work on behalf of accident victims (i.e. the pursuers) also work for the very insurance companies (i.e. the defenders) who are being sued by accident victims. It would be in your interest to know if the firm you are thinking about contacting is totally committed to fighting for the rights of injured people.
Despite appearances, claims companies are not firms of solicitors and they cannot pursue your claim in the Scottish courts. Claims companies operate under different guises, but they share one common characteristic – they are basically middlemen who match your claim with a solicitor from a panel. All you have done by not directly contacting a solicitor of your own choosing is added an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy and cost between you and the successful resolution of your claim.
Scottish solicitors are regulated by the Law Society of Scotland. Unlike in England & Wales, there is no regulation of claims companies in Scotland.
Andy Thorogood is the Practice Development Manager at Bonnar & Company Solicitors, a leading firm of personal injury solicitors and accident compensation claim specialists with offices across Scotland.
Bonnar & Company has over 30 years’ experience of personal injury claims in Scotland and only ever works on behalf of accident victims and their families.