Have you been injured in a road traffic accident, or developed a psychological condition that you believe is the result of an earlier trauma? Did a doctor fail to diagnose an illness, or have you suffered ill health as the result of the action (or inaction) of a doctor?
If so, you may potentially have a personal injury claim. A personal injury is an injury to the body or mind, rather than property, that has been caused by the actions (or failure to act) of another. This last part is important—it must be caused by the negligence or wrongful act of another. If you fall over because you trip on a smooth pavement and nobody else is involved, or you personally choose to take a risk that endangers you, then you have no claim. The negligent act, however, can be further removed than you might think. For example, if you fall off a pair of high heels and injure yourself, then you may have a claim against the manufacturer of those shoes, or the person who sold them to you if they knew they were faulty.
If you believe you may have a valid claim, what should you bear in mind when choosing a lawyer?
First, personal injury lawyers tend to be specialists. Clinical negligence, for example, where there has been a medical error, is a highly specialised area. Other personal injury lawyers will only deal with road traffic accidents or accidents at work. You should therefore look for a lawyer who specialises in the right area. Experience of handling cases similar to yours is very important, and could make a difference in terms of cost and likely success. A lawyer with the right track record will know the best strategy for your case, and will have a reasonable idea of the likely outcome. They will know how long certain jobs take, how to negotiate with insurance companies, and the best way to speed things up.
Second, you should make sure your lawyer is qualified and upfront about payment. It is a good idea to look for the kitemark of Apil (the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers). Apil is a highly reputable national organisation of personal injury lawyers, who follow a code of practice and keep up-to-date with legal developments in their area of practice. They are professionally bound to give you advice with your best interests in mind. They will clearly explain the financial side of your case, including how much it will cost you and how much compensation you are likely to receive.
If you believe your injury has been caused by medical negligence then you could also look to Avma (Association for Victims of Medical Accidents) for advice. Avma has a team of medical and legal caseworkers who will offer free and confidential advice on your rights.
If you are approached on the street or cold-called by someone asking if you have suffered any accidents or injuries recently, and offering to handle your claim, then you should be on your guard. Some claims handlers are more interested in taking a percentage of your compensation than providing you with the best legal assistance.
Another important thing to bear in mind when choosing a personal injury lawyer is how you want to fund your case.
Lawyers often work on a conditional fee basis. This is commonly termed ‘no win, no fee’. The advantage is you only pay your lawyer if you win, although you may have to pay the other side’s legal costs if you lose (make sure your lawyer explains the insurance required for this). The disadvantage is that any compensation you receive will be partly shared with your lawyer.
Personal injury claims must be filed within a certain period of time from the injury, in some cases this is three years. Otherwise they are ‘out of time’. It is therefore important to take prompt action and consult a lawyer as soon as possible.
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