Personal injury law in the UK has been slowly evolving since the mid-1990s in a way some fear is starting to model the environment in other countries. In order to keep the system from becoming excessively litigious, the government has adopted new legislation set to take effect from April 1, 2013.
If you have suffered a serious or debilitating injury that qualifies for a claim under the current law, it is important to contact a solicitor as soon as possible. You need to know what the law provides now and what the changes will be in the future. Only a qualified solicitor can advise you on the best course of action.
Personal Injury Law Basics
According to the Law Society, as many as 3 million people are injured in accidents every year in the UK. Those accidents occur at work, at home, in traffic, and just about everywhere else that people go. When a person’s injuries are attributable to another party’s negligence or carelessness, the injured individual usually has the right to file a claim for compensation.
Personal injury law in this country is a bit more complicated than it is in other places. For example, awards in the UK are much more tightly controlled than they are in the U.S. The intricacies of the law suggest injured parties seek the advice of a competent and experienced personal injury lawyer able to advise correctly. If you have a legitimate case, the solicitor is there to represent you during the process.
Different Types of Personal Injury Cases
“Personal injury” is a broad term encompassing many different types of scenarios. You may have seen adverts from solicitors talking about their expertise in traffic accidents or workplace mishaps; they all fall under the personal injury banner. What they all have in common are the serious injuries that could have been prevented had circumstances been different.
Here are some of the most common types of accidents handled by personal injury solicitors:
- Slip and Trip Accidents – Also known as “slip and fall” accidents, these are the mishaps that happen in public places as the result of normal activity. For example, a shopkeeper who failed to keep his or her entryway free of ice during the winter may create conditions causing a customer to slip, fall, and break an arm or leg.
- Traffic Crashes – Driving is a very risky activity no matter where and when you go. Unfortunately, careless drivers cause accidents with cars, vans, motorbikes, buses, and so on. Anyone injured in a traffic crash due to someone else’s carelessness can make a claim. That is true of drivers, passengers, and even pedestrians.
- Defective Products – Defective products sometimes cause accidents resulting in injuries to consumers. If a product can be demonstrated as defective, victims can usually file an accident compensation claim.
- Clinical Negligence – When doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals make careless mistakes resulting in personal injury, the law qualifiers that as clinical (or medical) negligence. Such cases are eligible compensation claims. Cases against healthcare institutions and drug and equipment manufacturers also fall under this category.
Other types of injuries and accidents qualify as personal injury. They might be the result of professional negligence, a careless dog owner, or unsafe working conditions. They key to filing an accident claim is having a good solicitor who understands the law and the details of the specific case.
The law allows accident victims to receive awards based on very specific parameters. This is different from what applies to some countries, like the U.S. for example. In the States, personal injury awards are virtually limitless due to the nature of the “pain and suffering” principle. Sympathetic juries are known in that country to award millions of pounds for injuries of all types.
The Citizen’s Advice Bureau explains that in the UK, personal injury awards are divided into two categories:
- General Damages – This part of an award is given as compensation for the actual injury. A court determines this amount based on things like loss of income, pain and suffering, and so on. General damages are usually tied to very specific, quantifiable things.
- Special Damages – This part of the award is to cover any financial expenses incurred by the victim because of the accident. Expenses that would qualify as special damages include things like car repairs, replacement of damaged personal property, medical care, medical travel, etc.
In 1995, the government made changes to the personal injury law that allowed solicitors to bill defendants for their services if they won the case. The changes were good for claimants inasmuch as this allowed them to keep 100% of any award given. However, that is set to change from April 1, 2013.
Changes Are Coming
Over the last few years, the litigation environment has been evolving. So much so that some fear the UK is becoming much like the U.S. in terms of award sizes and excessive legal fees. To help encourage the tort system to return to its past, new legislation has been adopted.
The most significant component of the new rules comes by way of solicitor fees. From April 1 2013, fees will be paid directly by the client regardless of which side wins the case. For claimants, that means fees and court costs will be deducted from any award given by the court. This arrangement protects defendants from financial devastation over insignificant claims resulting in small awards but excessive solicitor fees.
Those who oppose the new rules believe they will discourage some with legitimate claims from seeking compensation. The fear is that solicitor fees and court costs could reduce awards to such small amounts as to make a claim not worth the trouble. In some cases, the cost might even exceed the size of the award.
Changes to No Win, No Fee
The second significant change brought about by the new rules has to do with the “no win, no fee” option currently offered by many personal injury lawyers. Under the current system, claimants who use such attorneys are not obligated to pay solicitor expenses regardless of whether they win or lose their case. If they win the other party pays, if they lose the lawyer does not receive anything.
The changes in the law may cause some personal injury solicitors to rethink the no win, no fee offer. Undoubtedly, some will opt to no longer offer the option, while others will continue to do so. Solicitors who decide the no win, no fee offer still stands, will likely be more cautious about the cases they take on.
Finding a Solicitor for Your Personal Injury Case
When it is time to start looking for a solicitor, there are several options. The first is to contact the Law Society, either over the phone or online, and get a list of solicitors able to handle your case. The Law Society is a great resource given the fact that they are the leading professional organisation for law firms in England and Wales.
A second option is to pay a visit to one of the legal charities or advice bureaus in your area. Most major cities in the UK have a least a few from which to choose. These organisations are permitted to offer limited legal assistance, including answering basic questions and pointing you to a qualified solicitor.
The last option is to simply search on your own using the Internet or the telephone listings. There are a good number of web sites available that let you search according to postcode, the type of case you have, or other criteria. While it is a fast and efficient way to search, you still need to be careful about properly vetting law firms.
When you do find a solicitor you will likely be asked to provide the following:
- proof of identification – the law now requires this to prevent money laundering schemes
- complete details of the accident including dates, times, etc.
- any documentation and/or evidence to support your claim
- copies of any insurance policies that may provide payment for legal services
After reviewing your case your solicitor will advise you regarding whether or not you have a legitimate claim and, if so, how much compensation you are likely to receive. In light of the coming changes, it is wise to consider this advice seriously before proceeding with the claim. The last thing you need is to go through the process only to find out in the end you still have to pay money out of pocket.
Personal injury law exists to protect consumers from carelessness and negligence. The law affords individuals a right to compensation claims in many, but not all, cases. If you believe you have been injured because of someone else’s actions, it is important for you to consult an experienced solicitor for advice. If you have a legitimate claim worth pursuing, a solicitor is the one in the best position to advise you.
If you can get to a solicitor and get your claim filed before April 1, you will still be able to take advantage of the current system. Any claims filed after April 1, 2013 will be subject to new regulations including attorney fees and court costs being deducted from your award. If you need help paying any legal expenses, that might come your way look for solicitor that participates in the government’s Legal Aid program.
The Internet is a good place to search for personal injury lawyers able to take your case. To make things as easy as possible, we have provided the following links to websites that will let you search online. Keep in mind these sites do not offer recommendations of specific lawyers; they act merely as online directories for informational purposes only.
Association of Personal Injury Lawyers – A professional association representing law firms specialising in personal injury claims. Here you can search according to different types of accidents or claim type.
Lawyer Locator – Follow this link to a site that lets you search for qualified lawyers in your area offering personal injury advice as well as help across a wide variety of disciplines. Choose your options, click the button, and you are on your way.
Lawyer Guide – This site lets you browse lawyers by county or, if you prefer, fill out an online form to request a contact from a solicitor in your area. The site currently claims more than 13,000 law firms in its database.
Contact Law – A website maintained by the FindLaw legal charity. You can use the online form offered here to request a call back from FindLaw counsellor or call them directly using the free number listed on the site. Your counsellor will get you in touch with a qualified solicitor after reviewing your details.
SolicitALawyer.co.uk – This site lists more than 116 different law firms specialising in personal injury in the UK. Each firm’s listing includes a five-star rating according to personal recommendations from users.
Claims4Free – A website helping to connect personal injury victims with qualified solicitors. By filling out the online form and submitting it, you are agreeing to be contacted by one of the solicitors this website works with.
You may choose to seek the advice of a legal charity before contacting a solicitor. Legal charities can give you advice as well as point you in the direction of pro bono representation and legal financing options. The following links will take you to the sites of some of these charities:
Law Works – A legal charity offering free legal advice to UK residents who cannot afford and who don’t qualify for Legal Aid. This website is also a place where lawyers can go if they are interested in offering pro bono services.
Advocates.org – This page is the gateway to the Free Legal Services Unit of Advocates.org. When you seek help here, you have access to a written explanation of your case, consultation with a solicitor, and representation as needed.
Citizens Advice Bureau – Follow this link to the Advice Guide page addressing free legal help. You can learn all about what they offer and find the location of the local office so you can drop in for a visit.
Community Advice and Law Service – Residents of Leicestershire have access to legal information, qualified advice, and court representation through this community charity. They have been helping Leicestershire residents for 30 years.
Kingston University Law School – The University has set up the KU Community Legal Advice Centre as a way of assisting those in need with free legal advice and representation. Their help is available to individuals, charities, and businesses.
Derby CALC – This link takes you to the Derby Citizens Advice & Law Centre, a non-profit community organization offering free legal services in the greater Derby area. Services are offered on a first-come, first-served basis; no appointment is necessary.