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Accident and injury claims

by Norman Geddes

IF you believed everything you read or heard in some sections of the media, you might be under the impression that this country is in the grip of an American-style compensation culture, and that everybody was on the constant look-out for any possible opportunity to sue somebody else for vast sums of money on account of some mishap that has befallen them.

Nothing could be further from the truth. A leading firm of solicitors in London says it runs around 70,000 compensation claims a year for injured people, and yet they have seen no marked increase in the number of cases in recent years.

Moreover, it may unfortunately be that the adverse publicity attracted by a few ill-advised claims may well discourage genuine potential claimants from pursuing their case.

A compensation claim will not succeed unless someone has been injured by the negligence of someone else.

The mission statement of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) reads: “APIL recognises that people from all parts of society may suffer personal injury. Their accidents may have devastating effects on all aspects of their lives. Nothing can fully compensate people for their injuries. But where the accident is someone else’s fault, society should ensure that those who cause injury are held accountable and take responsibility for their actions. Compensation should aim to rehabilitate the injured victim and assist them in buying the care needed to enable them to try to restore their quality of life.”

A personal injury can include, for example, an injury at work or in a traffic accident, an injury received as a result of faulty goods or services, an injury sustained by tripping over paving stones, an injury caused by errors in hospital treatment or one sustained by a victim in the course of a crime. An injury can be physical and/or psychological.

If you believe that you have suffered an injury for which someone else is at least partly to blame, you should take the following steps.

  • Inform the police if, for example, the injury resulted from a road accident.
  • If the injury resulted from a road accident, report it to your insurance company. The insurance policy may be invalid if an accident is not reported.
  • If the injury resulted from an accident at work, you should notify your employer and the accident must be recorded in the accident book.
  • Your employer has a legal responsibility to report the accident to the Health and Safety Executive or the local authority environmental health department, and can be prosecuted if they fail to do so.
  • Report the injury to your doctor, because it could become more serious. You should do this even if the injury seems minor. If you subsequently go to court to get compensation for the injury, the doctor will be asked to provide a medical report.
  • Gather evidence about the accident and injuries. For example, it may be useful to take photographs of the scene of an accident and of what caused the injury.
You should also, if possible, write an account of the incident while details are still fresh in your mind. If there are witnesses, you should make a note of their names and addresses.If you then decide that you may have a case for claiming compensation for your injury, then you should consult a solicitor who is accredited by the Law Society of Scotland as specialising in accident and injury claims. Contact details for the Law Society of Scotland can be found below.

If you have sustained a personal injury you may be able to claim two types of compensation: general damages and special damages.

General damages are paid as compensation for an injury, for example, a payment for pain and suffering or loss of future earnings. The court will decide on the amount to be paid.

Special damages are paid as compensation for actual financial loss caused by the accident up to the date of the hearing. These can include damage to clothing or other belongings, the costs of care, travel costs to hospital, medical expenses (including the cost of private treatment) and the cost of hiring and/or repairing a car if it has been damaged in the accident.

If a court decides that you were partly to blame for the accident, it may reduce the amount of damages you receive. An example of this would be if you were not wearing a seat belt when you were involved in a traffic accident.

If you have been receiving certain social security benefits because of an accident in which you sustained a personal injury, you may have to pay these back out of any compensation you get. The rules about deduction from benefits are complex, and you are urged to seek professional advice.

There are different time limits within which you must begin legal action in a personal injury claim. The most common claim in a personal injury case is negligence, and the time limit for this is three years. This means that court proceedings must be issued within three years of your first being aware that you have suffered an injury.

If you are considering taking legal action and have not yet been to a solicitor, you will need to be aware of the time limits for taking action and should seek help from an experienced adviser.

A no win no fee agreement means that if you win a case you must pay your solicitor’s fees and expenses from the damages you receive. If you lose, you will not have to pay fees to your own solicitor, but you may have to pay the other side’s costs. Your solicitor will normally advise you to take out insurance to cover this.The most important thing to remember is to get proper legal advice at the earliest possible stage.

Norman Geddes is senior director with Ayr-based solicitors Frazer Coogans, who have a dedicated Accidentclaims.com at their offices in Dalblair Road.

The Law Society of Scotland is at 26 Drumsheugh Gardens Edinburgh EH3 7YR.
Telephone: 0131 226 7411.
E-mail: lawscot@lawscot.org.uk


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