If you are the victim of an accident that wasn’t your fault and bring a personal injury claim, there is a good chance that in order to win your claim, you will need to start Court Proceedings – What does that mean? From the very first meeting, your solicitor is assessing your chances and is preparing your case for court.
The most common causes of personal injury in the UK are road traffic and workplace accidents. It can be relatively straightforward to apportion blame in the more obvious of scenarios and most successful personal injury claims are resolved without the need for expensive court proceedings or, they settle out of court after proceedings have commenced. The rules which govern personal injury claims, the Civil Procedure Rules, actively encourage parties to settle and if you refuse to even contemplate a compromise, the court has the power to penalise you, in costs.
Should I fear my day in court? What will happen to me if I lose? As long as you have a good case and the support of your legal team there is nothing to fear and no; provided you have been honest, you will not face unpleasant scrutiny, even if the worst was to happen and you lose.
To explain the process, let’s use the example of what should be a simple accident at work claim.
An employee (the Claimant) slips on a spillage of liquid whilst walking down some metal stairs in a warehouse and falls, breaking her ankle. In the letter of claim prepared by her solicitor, she blames her employer (the Defendant), alleging that they failed to keep the stairs and floors free of hazards.
The Defendant, a well-resourced, multinational company, has 3-months to respond to the case. Eventually, after much wrangling and delay, their big insurer takes over and they dispute the Claimants version of events. They blame the Claimant, alleging that she was carrying an unsealed cup of hot tea which she spills and slips on as she is walking down the staircase and consequently, she was the author of her own misfortune. There are no eyewitnesses to support either side.
Meanwhile, its now 12 months since her fall and sadly, the Claimants ankle has not healed as expected. She relies upon independent expert medical evidence from an Orthopaedic Consultant. It is the opinion of her expert that the Claimant is left with a permanent disability which compromises her day to day living. In effect she is handicapped on the labour market.
Her claim for damages exceeds £250,000, including damages for her pain, suffering and loss of amenity, the scarring to her leg and her past and future loss of earnings. The Defendant, upon receiving the Claimants expert medical evidence and schedule of financial losses, maintains its denial and has no offers to make. Had her ankle healed fully, then the value of her damages would probably have been far less and, a compromise might have been achieved off the record, so to speak. The Defendants insurer, faced with a costly bill, fights the claim.
What does the Claimant do? Will she win, will she lose? Withdrawing is an option and unfortunately, some cases will fold at this stage. Luckily for the Claimant, her solicitor specialises in employer liability claims and he has confidence in her. After disputing the claim, the Defendant was invited to disclose to the Claimants solicitor, several classes of workplace documents. They refused to comply, so he made an application to the County Court for Pre-Action Disclosure. The Defendants insurer instructs solicitors to deal with that application. Sensibly they consent to the application and the documents are disclosed, some of which lend support to the Claimants version of events, including evidence of a non-existent cleaning regime.
The Claimant makes a formal offer to split liability 80/20 in her favour. This is neither accepted, nor rejected by the Defendant.
Arrangements are made for the Claimant to meet with Counsel (a Barrister) for a 2nd opinion. Upon seeing and hearing her in person and reviewing the evidence, Counsel is satisfied that she would make a very good witness. Counsel assesses the Claimants prospects of winning her claim to be 55% or more. Court proceedings are recommended, and the Claimant agrees. Her preliminary witness evidence is finalised (now, if not before). A Claim Form is prepared by her solicitor and the Particulars of Claim and Schedule of Loss, the documents which set out, succinctly, the Claimants case, are (commonly) prepared by Counsel. These are approved by the Claimant, signed and returned to her solicitor.
These court documents, accompanied by a fee of £10,000 (yep, ten thousand pounds) are either posted to the court service or, they can be uploaded online. The court papers are issued and then served on the Defendant, either by the court, or are returned to the Claimants solicitor, who effects service. Once they have been served with the court proceedings, the Defendant has around a month to serve a formal Defence. They can ask the Claimant for more time or seek permission from the court for an extension, but eventually, provided they don’t default, a Defence is served.
What happens next? See Part 2 in a week
7th February 2020
Grant is an accredited personal injury specialist and an authority in accident claims.