Personal injury FAQs

What does ‘liability’ mean?

Your accident might have been caused by the negligent driving of a motorist or by the breach of a Statutory Duty by a highway authority for failing to maintain the highway.

Legally, fault is defined as negligence or breach of Statutory Duty. Negligence means doing something wrong which a reasonable person would realise was likely to cause injury. Breach of Statutory Duty means breaking an Act of Parliament – usually a law specifically passed to protect people from injury.

Because of the complicated nature of the law of liability, one person injured in certain circumstances may succeed in their claim when another fails. If you are partly to blame in an incident then your compensation is reduced.

Examples

  • Road Traffic Incident In a road incident it is usually easy to see who is to blame. One driver may fail to stop at a ‘Give Way’ sign, or lose control by going too fast.
  • Animal Incident For example, a person might let a dog off their lead which might collide with a cyclist causing injury. A claim can be pursued against the dog owner/handler for failing to keep the dog under control.
  • Highway Incident Cyclists who lose control of their bicycle as a consequence of a pothole would need to show that the pothole was dangerous and that the council do not have a proper system of inspection and repair.

What is my claim worth?

The award you may get (often known as ‘quantum’ or ‘damages’) is supposed to compensate you for your loss.

Pain and suffering and loss of amenity are the expressions used by lawyers for the award made for the physical and mental injury, including the pain and inconvenience of treatment. It is assessed for each case individually, though roughly based on previous awards made by Judges. The level of compensation awards is generally considered to be low, particularly for serious injuries.

The starting point for assessing the award is the type of injury – for example a broken leg. Someone who needed an operation will get a
higher award. The length of time off work or on light duties is taken into account.

The impact of the injury on work, home life, sports and hobbies will be considered. Special factors such as lengthy treatment or the accident spoiling a holiday are relevant.

It is recommended that you keep a diary or a note of key milestones and/or the problems you experience as you will be asked to provide a history to the medical specialist who will be preparing the report on your injuries.

Your lawyers will obtain a written report from a medical expert. This is the cornerstone of your case in two respects. Firstly it will establish whether the problems that you have are directly attributable to the incident. Secondly, it will set out the problems that you have had and are likely to have in the future. It is vital that you mention all your problems to the doctor. It is very unlikely that the Defendants will accept any complaints that are not referred to in the medical report.

In addition to compensation for the injury you are entitled to the value of damaged possessions and clothing, and any other financial losses. The Courts limit these claims to what might be reasonably foreseen. So if, because of an injury, you missed buying your lottery ticket and the numbers came up, you couldn’t claim! If you do incur losses you should ensure you obtain and save documents to prove them, such as receipts and repair bills.

In serious cases there may be awards for loss of earnings and medical and nursing expenses both in the past and future. The Courts limit the claims to ‘reasonable’ amounts. You are also expected to keep your losses to a reasonable minimum.

How long will my claim take?

In a straightforward case, where liability is accepted by the Defendant and the injuries recover quickly, it may take only a matter of a few months. In other cases delays are caused by;

  • waiting for a final medical opinion
  • evidence not available immediately (especially if the Defendant has been prosecuted for an offence)
  • witnesses not co-operating
  • insurers dragging their feet
  • Court procedures

The average claim generally takes 12 months from start to finish. If there is a risk that you might end up losing your job then it is strongly advisable to defer settlement of your claim until your employment position has become clear. Once your claim is settled by negotiation or at Court you cannot go back for more compensation. The only exception to this is very rare cases known as ‘Provisional Damages’ awards, where there is a risk of a very severe complication – such as epilepsy after a head injury.

These personal injury FAQs were written by Paul Kitson, Partner at Slater and Gordon Lawyers

Paul is a claimant personal injury specialist with Slater and Gordon Lawyers, whose particular expertise lies in road traffic accident (RTA) litigation as well as sports injury litigation. He has a niche practice in cycling injury claims and is the client partner for CTC, the national cycling charity
2008, Updated 2015

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