This article was first posted at https://cilexblog394145524.wordpress.com/2019/10/22/work-the-truth-about-personal-injury-lawyers/
I’ve always been one of those annoying people. You know the ones. Those who always knew what they wanted to do and seemed to always have a clear direction in knowing how to pursue their career.
I knew I wanted to be a lawyer from a young age. Initially, a criminal barrister of course, as up until the last few years this was the only type of lawyer portrayed on TV. Luckily for me, my first role in law as a trainee legal secretary provided me with the opportunity to gain insight into a range of practice areas.
During my first year in law, I was able to work in a fairly wide variety of practice areas; from family law and probate to property law and corporate law. However, there was one area that appealed to me more and that was personal injury. Perhaps this was due to the fact that I had lost a close friend in a car accident two years before, or maybe the fact that the clients were real genuine people like you or I that needed help.
Claimant personal injury lawyers tend to get the raw deal when it comes to stereotypes. Sometimes referred to as “no win, no fee” ambulance chasers, we become used to the typical response to our job titles, “oh I know, where there’s blame there’s a claim”, but the reality couldn’t be further from the truth.
It is true that claimant personal injury lawyers do represent people in bringing claims against defendants, whose debts for compensation are often met by their insurers, but the bottom line is that we are representing people who have often been seriously injured through no fault of their own, to bring claims under tort law through the process of civil litigation. There is a lot more to personal injury lawyers than you might think, least of all a desire to “chase ambulances”.
Personal injury lawyers are generally people who care a lot about the people they represent. The thing about personal injury clients, is that they are easy to relate to. After all, they are normal people with careers, families and personal lives just going about their day-to-day business, when suddenly their whole lives are turned upside down following an injury. The more you work in personal injury, the more you realise it really could happen to any of us, and you begin to appreciate the fragility of life.
The personal injury process is complex, stressful and arduous for those who are injured. Having someone to turn to, who understands and is familiar with the process and its legal nuisances is important. It is not simply a case of “where there’s blame there’s a claim”.
To recover compensation for an injured person, claimant’s personal injury lawyers must first prove that the accident was caused by the negligence of the defendant (also known as liability). Sometimes establishing this is straight forward, whilst on other occasions further investigations need to be carried out to understand the circumstances of the accident, to prove liability. For example, in a road traffic collision this might involve obtaining a copy of the police report, witness statements from those who were there at the time of the accident, and sometimes even expert collision investigators report to determine exactly how the accident occurred and what it was the Defendant did, or failed to do, which was negligence. Alternatively, when pursuing a claim against their employer for an accident at work, copies of the employers’ health and safety records, along with any risk assessment/accident records may assist.
Once liability is admitted, the second burden of investigation relates to the appropriate level of compensation to which the injured person is entitled (Quantum). The principle aim of compensation in England and Wales, is to allow the injured individual to be put back in the position they would have been in, had their accident not occurred. Unfortunately, in most cases involving serious injury, it is unlikely that clients will make a full recovery. Therefore, compensation can only assist in ensuring the injured person has access to the things they need, to put them back into the position they were in as closely as possible.
Compensation is made up of two parts. Firstly, a payment for pain, suffering and loss of amenity, otherwise referred to as general damages. This is a payment for the injury itself. In England and Wales, such figures are set by the JC Guidelines which provide a bracket for every type of injury imaginable. Often these are considered low, particularly when working with clients whose injuries will have had a catastrophic effect on their lives. The second element of compensation relates to financial loss arising from the injuries, otherwise known as special damages. This often forms a large part of the claims you see in the media, where claims have settled for millions.
Whilst these figures sound like a lot of money, the reality behind it is that the costs incurred to return an injured person to an appropriate quality of life and independence, is going to be expensive because their needs for support are great.
Compensation is intended to provide recompense for the financial losses which will arise as a result of their injury. Compensation for special damages will include payments for ongoing treatment which, in a case of catastrophic magnitude, may include a whole host of medical treatment and therapies; physiotherapy, psychology, psychiatry and occupational therapy – to list a few. They may also require significant care and support to enable them to live independently. This may include aids and equipment, home adaptations and costs of travel and transport associated with the injury and may continue for prolonged periods or even life.
As with liability, these elements of compensation will only be payable if they can be proved with evidence. Such evidence will again include documentary evidence, witness statements and medico-legal reports, which will need to be obtained from experts commenting on the nature and extent of the Claimant’s injury and how this impacts their activities of daily living, as well as any of their needs into the future. The role of a personal injury lawyer is to bring all of this evidence together in one document, the schedule of loss.
Personal injury claims take time. The reason for this, is that often there will be a period of recovery which needs to take place before medico-legal experts are in a position to give a long term prognosis. Once liability is admitted, personal injury lawyers can assist their client’s by seeking interim payments (early payments of compensation) to enable clients to have the funds to put in place the things they need such as rehabilitation, treatment and support to help make as much of a recovery as possible and increase their quality of life and independence.
Generally, personal injury lawyers do not often spend a lot of time in court. Whilst it is always the case that claims should be prepared as if they were going to trial from the outset, the reality is that far more cases now settle than they do go to trial. Therefore, the role of claimant’s personal injury lawyer is to negotiate on an injured person’s behalf and to make sure that evidence is obtained to ensure that any settlement or award made by the court is enough to provide for the injured person to meet their needs in the future.
To be a good personal injury lawyer, you not only need to know the law, but rather you will need to have empathy, compassion and the ability to gain a person’s trust in their time of need. Additionally, personal injury lawyers need to have the ability to engage in difficult conversations. It is important to remember that as personal injury lawyers we are dealing with people’s lives. Sometimes you may be the person delivering bad news. You may be required to sit down with a client to tell them that their injuries are likely to be permanent, that they are unlikely to work again or that a medical expert has opined that their life expectancy has been reduced. These are difficult issues and must be addressed tactfully and with compassion. Therefore, above all else, strong people skills and the ability to build relationships of trust and confidence are crucial to any personal injury lawyer’s success.
Whilst personal injury can be an emotionally challenging area of law in which to practice, this is far outweighed by its rewards. Every day provides a chance to help another person and an opportunity to make a difference, whilst providing a stark reminder of all the things we should be grateful for.
If you would like to learn more about what it is like to practice as a personal injury lawyer, please do not hesitate to contact me on any of my social media platforms below:-