*Updated June 2019 – we have recently added a podcast with more information on the 14 common mistakes personal injury clients make. Scroll to the bottom of the post to listen to it*
Without further ado, here is an updated list of the 14 mistakes someone may make in their personal injury claim:
Worrying that a court hearing will involve a jury.
A civil claim, like a personal injury claim or clinical negligence claim, in the unlikely event that it goes to a trial, will be in front of a judge, not a jury. It’s not scary. I estimate that only 1% of claims go to trial – and these are usually the enormous claims or ones where the insurers sense that the claimant hasn’t been entirely truthful.
Assuming that your lawyer always has your case in their mind.
If only this was true. A personal injury lawyer may have over 200 clients at any one time, depending upon how complex the claims are and how much help they have. Some unqualified paralegals have 500 claims (usually road traffic accidents). My recommendation is that a client should frequently engage with their lawyer, nudging the lawyer if the lawyer appears to have forgotten them. Incidentally, if you become aware that your case handler has a ridiculously high number of claims to deal with, you should look into switching to another firm of solicitors.
Thinking your question might be stupid so not asking it.
Some adverts suggest that making a personal injury claim is easy-peasy, so you might feel you can’t ask a question because your lawyer will think you are thick! Do not think like this. This is your claim and you have a right to know what is going on. It isn’t your day job to understand this area of law. Ask, ask, ask. I bet your lawyer couldn’t do your job. Personal injury law is really complicated. Frequently my team of brilliant lawyers will disagree on a point – which proves that there aren’t always black and white answers to questions. So feel free to ask your lawyer.
Assuming a compensation claim will be easy.
I never tell my clients this because it rarely is all that easy. Sure, some claims, particularly road traffic accidents, can be fairly straight-forward, but most claims have their complexity. And I never think that bringing a claim against an employer is easy. It is something that you need to think about carefully. You never know, when you bring a claim, whether you will need to go to court to give evidence as a lawyer cannot know how the other side will approach your claim. Discuss the advantages and potential disadvantages of bringing a claim.
Failing to keep key evidence.
OK, so you have had an accident, the first thing you should do after you have looked after yourself is to gather evidence. See the accident scene as a murder scene. Preserve evidence. If you have a mobile phone with a camera, take numerous photos and video. Write everything down. Speak to every witness who is there because witnesses are often reluctant to help you out a few months later. What are the conditions like? Where were the bushes and tree obscuring your view? Were the streetlights on? Which direction was the sun coming from? If you have had a car accident, take photos of the positions of the car, if you can. Get paperwork. Be forensic because, as a claimant, you have to prove that someone else’s negligence caused your accident. You may not choose to bring a claim, but if you haven’t gathered evidence, then you may make any claim much harder to bring.
Settling your claim without obtaining medical evidence.
Insurers sometimes respond to a claim by offering a sum of compensation immediately. A lawyer will find it nearly impossible to value your claim without medical evidence, unless you have made a full recovery in a matter of weeks. Occasionally it might be worth accepting such an offer, but I would approach any offer with a healthy dose of scepticism.
Choosing to rely on a GP’s medical report only.
I have lost count of the number of times the prognosis of a GP expert witness has been wrong. What does GP stand for? General Practitioner. I have had clients with injuries which I know the GP has misdiagnosed, and I have said to my clients that they should demand of their GP that they are referred to a consultant. Opt for a Consultant if you can. Read more on this here.
Assuming that all law firms are the same.
Many people injured in a car accident use the law firm allocated to them by their insurance company, without questioning whether this law firm is any good. When you think about it, this is utter madness! Shop around, use the internet, ask yourself a few questions:
- Is this law firm near you?
- Can you meet your solicitor or legal executive?
- Do you trust them?
Not just that, ask the person handling your case some questions too:
- Are they a qualified solicitor or legal executive?
- How many clients do they have at any one time? I know of a firm where the paralegals (case handlers who are not even qualified) have up to 500 road traffic accident clients at the same time!
- Where does the profit from your claim go?
- What free legal advice do they offer?
Get empowered. It’s your case – so choose your own lawyer. Many clients feel that they cannot change law firms but it is easy to do so. Find out more by reading our guide on switching solicitors.
9. Assuming all lawyers are equally skilled and experienced.
We are not! I wouldn’t dream of advising on a house purchase, but I can count on one hand the number of times a client has asked me whether I have dealt with a claim like theirs before. Make sure your lawyer knows his or her stuff. Personal injury claims are hugely important, so don’t trust a novice with your case.
10. Settling your claim too soon.
I hate it when this happens. My best advice is, if you can, only settle your case when you have made a full physical and psychological recovery. Of course, some injuries are permanent, but if this is the case, make sure that the medical evidence is final. Why is early settlement a problem? Well, say for example, a medical expert states you are likely to make a full recovery in one year, and you settle your claim before that year is up. You are still injured – your injuries might continue beyond the expert’s prediction. If you do continue to suffer, then the chances are you have settled your injury claim for less than it is worth. Once settled, you cannot go back for more, except in rare circumstances. Read more on this here.
If you have under-settled a claim due to bad advice from your lawyer, you may be able to bring a No Win, No Fee professional negligence claim to recoup your losses.
11. Believing you can deal direct without a lawyer.
Often insurance companies will try and settle a claim directly with you, and tell you that lawyers complicate things – that you will get a better settlement without all those legal fees. This is nonsense. I have spent my professional career bringing claims against insurers. Often insurers put up a pretty good fight against us, so how well, really, will a non-lawyer do against an insurer? I remember once that I dealt with a very smart client who nearly accepted what she thought was an excellent offer from the insurer, but she smelled a rat. After obtaining medical evidence from a consultant, at no cost to our client, the case settled for 3.5 times what the insurers had offered! Thank goodness that she had a keen sense of smell.
12. Failing to keep records of financial losses.
This is the bugbear of every personal injury lawyer in the country! Every time you incur a cost because of your accident – or even every time a friend or relative incurs such a cost – write it down. Keep any receipts, record it on your phone, or send it to your lawyer. You should view making a personal injury claim as if you are making any type of insurance claim. Imagine – heaven forbid – that your house is broken into and your wedding ring is stolen. When making a claim on your insurance your insurer will want to see proof of purchase or ownership, and who can blame them? Even with small costs, such as parking at a hospital, physiotherapy appointments and additional take-aways because you cannot cook due to your injuries – the sums all add-up and are potentially claimable. Your lawyer should advise you on what can be claimed. See this blog for more information on what you can potentially claim.
13. Failing to inform the medical expert of all symptoms.
Another bane of the personal injury lawyer’s work. If your lawyer sends you to a medical expert, and you don’t tell the doctor about all of your symptoms, it is very unlikely you be able to change the resulting report. Medical reports are crucial in personal injury claims. Reports document your injuries and your prospects of recovering from them. You cannot rely upon the doctor to ask exactly the right questions and extract all information about your injuries. Do not be afraid of doctors. If a doctor doesn’t ask you something and you think it is important, volunteer the information. If your injuries are not mentioned in a medical report, it’s unlikely that you will be compensated for them.
You could also view the medical expert as a second opinion on your injuries. It’s a wonderful opportunity to find out what an expert thinks about your injuries, for free, usually!
14. Not telling your lawyer about the mental/psychological side of an injury.
Are you drinking more? Having nightmares? Sweats? Just hoping that it will go away? What would your partner say about you since the accident? Are you shouting more? Or more reserved? More forgetful? The psychological element of an injury can often be the worst bit. It’s nothing to be embarrassed about. I would rather have an average physical injury than an average psychological injury. Talk about your mental symptoms with your lawyer, and certainly mention it to the medical expert. Stephen Fry, Alastair Campbell, Ruby Wax, are all examples of public people who are trying to change the way that mental health issues are seen. Tell the doctors and lawyers how you are feeling.
If you would like to make a personal injury claim with experienced, specialist solicitors, contact Truth Legal for a chat about your case. We offer free consultations with no obligation to proceed further.
Listen to our “14 Common Mistakes Personal Injury Clients Make” podcast!
In this podcast, our founder and solicitor, Andrew Gray, discusses the 14 common mistakes in detail and offers expert personal injury advice.
If you think there are other mistakes that you’ve made or other people have made in the personal injury process, please email [email protected] so we can update the blog and podcast.