If you are thinking of starting a personal injury claim, or you have just begun one, you may be concerned that your case is bound to end up at a court hearing.
If you have never started legal proceedings before, it might be tempting to imagine all kinds of things – judges frowning under their wigs, arguments and cross-examinations, maybe even a jury packed into a wood-panelled courtroom.
But the truth is: it is very uncommon for a personal injury claim to go to a court hearing. And even if a hearing does take place, the reality is often very different from what film and TV might have led you to believe.
Have a look at our blog post on 14 common mistakes personal injury clients make for more on these misconceptions.
So the answer is no – not every personal injury claim will go to a Stage 3 court hearing. But that can raise other questions: When might a claim go to hearing? What happens there? And what is Stage 3 anyway?
What is Stage 3?
Let’s start by looking at the last question first and explain exactly what Stage 3 is.
Stage 3 is the third and final stage of the Claims Portal process. The Ministry of Justice’s Claims Portal was introduced in 2010 as an online system through which claims of various kinds could be processed and handled by the parties involved – both the party who is making the claim (the Claimant) and the party defending the claim (the Defendant).
Personal injury claims considered to be worth less than £25,000 (and, therefore, the majority of these claims) must be started through the Claims Portal, unless certain exceptions apply (more on these below).
An overview of the whole Claims Portal process can be found in our Knowledge Centre.
Stage 3 of the Claims Portal process involves a court making a decision on what the final outcome of your claim should be – i.e. how much compensation you should be awarded for your injuries and other losses.
Cases which fall outside of the Claims Portal process
We should briefly mention here, that some cases will not go through the Claims Portal process, or will exit the process and continue to be handled ‘outside’ the Claims Portal. As such, they can never go to Stage 3.
These cases include:
- Higher value cases – thought to be worth over £25,000.
- Cases where the Defendant argues that they are not at fault or not responsible for the Claimant’s injuries.
- Many other specific exceptions (examples include: where the Defendant argues that the Claimant is partially at fault, or the claim is being brought on behalf of the estate of someone who has died).
Claims proceeding outside of the Claims Portal are often begun by sending a Letter of Claim – instead of submitting details through the Portal. They can still go to a court hearing (though again this is rare) but the hearing will not be referred to as ‘Stage 3’. In non-Portal claims, court hearings or trials might be required to resolve a wider range of issues. This includes how much compensation you should be awarded, but may also covers questions of liability and whether some or all injuries were a direct result of the accident or not.
When might a claim go to a Stage 3 court hearing?
There are two situations in which a claim will go to a Stage 3 hearing:
- If the parties are unable to come to an agreement at Stage 2 – Stage 2 of the Claims Portal process is all about negotiation. However, if you and the Defendant cannot reach an agreement at this point, a Stage 3 court hearing will be needed to determine the final amount of compensation you should be awarded.
- If the claimant is a child – i.e. they are under 18 – The Civil Procedure Rules (which govern personal injury claims as well as many other kinds of legal action) require that settlements for children must be approved by a court. This means if you are under 18, or you are making a claim on behalf of someone under 18, the case will need to go to Stage 3 whether a settlement is agreed or not.
What happens at Stage 3 court hearings?
When a claim goes to Stage 3, you (as the party making the claim) or your legal representatives must submit a ‘Court Proceedings Pack’ to the court and the Defendant. The Defendant must also pay you an amount of compensation equivalent to their final offer made at Stage 2.
The Court Proceedings Pack contains information that the court will need about your case, but it also allows you to:
- Confirm whether a settlement hearing or a Stage 3 hearing is required (a settlement hearing is only appropriate when the parties have agreed a settlement already – such as for Claimants who are under 18.)
- Set out any dates which you would like to avoid for the hearing
- Choose whether you want a paper hearing or an oral hearing
With a paper hearing, the Judge will assess damages based on the documentary evidence you have for your claim (such as your medical report(s), schedule of loss, and other supporting documents). There will be no need, or in fact any option, for you to attend the hearing.
A paper hearing is the default position for a Stage 3 hearing unless one or both of the parties requests an oral hearing.
If an oral hearing takes place, both you and the Defendant will be represented by your own legal advocates (usually barristers but they can also be other legal representatives) who will make submissions in respect of the appropriate damages you should be awarded. The Judge will then make their decision. Even with an oral Stage 3 court hearing, you do not attend the hearing.
The court will not know the final offers made by each party until after the claim has been decided. Then, the amounts awarded by the court will be compared to the parties’ offers. This means there are three possible outcomes from a Stage 3 Hearing:
- You are awarded damages less than or equal to the Defendant’s offer
- You are awarded more than the Defendant’s offer but less than your own offer.
- You are awarded equal to or more than your own offer.
If you are awarded less than the Defendant’s final offer made at Stage 2, then you must pay back the difference to the Defendant. On the other hand, if you are awarded more, then the Defendant will be required to pay the additional sum owed to you as well as your legal costs. You may also be entitled to interest on your compensation award.
Finding out more
If you would like to know more about making a personal injury claim or the claims process in general, our site is full of free resources to help you. Our main personal injury claims page also details the different kinds of personal injury claim we can assist with.
Or if you would like to speak to one of our expert personal injury lawyers about your situation, please feel free to get in touch with us.