There is no automatic compensation for people seriously injured by a road crash. However, compensation can often be awarded through a legal process, pursued by a solicitor you hire, using civil law. In some cases, very large amounts of money can be awarded.
Awarding compensation using civil law is not dependent on a driver being found guilty under criminal law of any traffic offence. Even if an injured person was partly responsible for the crash, it may still be possible to obtain compensation from a driver whose actions were also partly responsible.
Compensation payments are not dependent on the responsible driver being able to pay any money themselves. The compensation is usually paid by their motor insurer. If they were uninsured, or are untraceable, then the money is usually paid by an organisation called the Motor Insurers' Bureau.
A suitably qualified and experienced solicitor can identify if you have a claim for compensation, pursue a claim on your behalf, and work to ensure you are awarded as much money as possible.
The rest of this page gives you advice on hiring the right solicitor and funding your solicitor.
Hiring the right solicitor to pursue compensation
To pursue compensation, you need to hire a solicitor. You are advised to use a solicitor with a specialism in personal injury motor compensation claims. The following organisations provide lists of these solicitors:
The Motor Accident Solicitors Society: 0117 925 9604
The Association of Personal Injury Lawyers: 0115 958 0585
A solicitor you are considering using should agree to meet with you for free initially, to advise you on whether they think you have a claim or not. You may wish to meet with more than one solicitor. Different solicitors have different expertise and experience, different fees, and different ways to pay them.
It is important you understand any agreement you sign with a solicitor; particularly any costs involved in them pursuing compensation for you.
Here are some questions that it is appropriate to ask a solicitor you are considering hiring:
• Are you a member of the two organisations listed above?
• How many serious injury traffic claims have you handled in the past year?
• Have you handled claims similar to this one recently? For example, claims with the same type of injuries? If so, can you describe these claims and their success?
• Will you handle this case, or will you pass it on to other solicitors who I haven't yet met? If so, can I meet them before hiring your company?
• How will I pay you, and how much will it cost me if I win and if I lose?
Also, consider whether the solicitor listens to your questions and answers them with care.
If you are in any doubt about a solicitor, consult another. Some claims take years to process, so it is very important that you are happy with your solicitor of choice.
Your nearest specialist solicitor may work some distance from your home. However, it is more important to hire a specialist than a solicitor near you, or one you know already. You can do a lot over the phone, by email and post. Some solicitors can visit you at home.
Do not delay consulting solicitors
If you have a good chance of compensation, the solicitor you hire will want to work on your case as soon as possible. It can take time to compile evidence to support your case, and the earlier you hire a solicitor, the sooner compensation can be awarded.
Claims must be submitted within three years. Three years may sound a long time but claims can take time to prepare. Sometimes it takes time to determine the severity of the injuries and the long-term effect on the injured person's life both at home and at work. Evidence needs to be collected and medical reports need to be obtained from doctors.
The time limits are extended for children and also for adults who have mental health problems which prevent them from managing their own financial affairs.
Talking to your solicitor
Your solicitor should be available to talk to you regularly, on the phone or face to face. They should explain what is happening in straightforward terms and answer your questions.
It is a good idea to keep notes of conversations with your solicitor and copies of correspondence so you can keep track of your claim.
Ensure you know who is handling your case. Sometimes several people in a solicitor's office may work on your case.
Rogue offers of help
You may be approached by someone offering to handle your claim for a straight percentage of your compensation. You may see adverts offering this service. This method of payment is called a contingency fee or Damages Based Agreement, and is not the same as a conditional fee, although, confusingly, may be referred to as 'no win, no fee' agreements.
If you are awarded a lot of money you will probably have to pay an unreasonably large amount of money to the person handling your claim. You are therefore advised against agreeing to this method of payment.
Contingency fees are often proposed by someone called a claims assessor or claims farmer, or a claims management company. Claims assessors are not personal injury solicitors. They are neither qualified nor regulated to the standards of solicitors.
You may also be approached by someone representing the other side's motor insurance company, offering to settle your claim directly and quickly with you, without the need for you to hire a solicitor. This is also not a good idea as it can result in you receiving much less compensation than you are due.
Complaining or changing solicitor
If, at any stage, you are unhappy with the service you are getting from your solicitor, you can ask to speak to the partner in the practice responsible for looking after clients; often called the complaints partner. If you remain dissatisfied, it may be possible to change solicitor. The organisations listed above will be able to give you advice about alternatives.
Paying your solicitor
Some people pay their solicitor as they go along, either because they have the funds to do so, or they own an insurance policy that covers legal expenses. Your solicitor can help you check any insurance policies you own to find out if you are covered.
Many people do not have available funds to pay a solicitor to pursue a claim for them. However, if you have a good claim, it should be possible to reach an agreement with your solicitor that means you only have to pay a small amount, or even nothing, if you lose your claim. If you win, the person you are claiming from will usually have to pay most, or all, of your solicitor's legal fees and expenses. Depending on the agreement you signed with your solicitor, you may however have to pay your solicitor additional funds from your compensation.
There are complex laws governing how solicitors are paid in compensation cases. It is important that you understand, from the beginning, how your solicitor intends to cover the costs of your claim and any fees you may personally be liable for, at any time, if you win or lose your claim.
It is particularly important that you do not sign an agreement that would result in your solicitor unreasonably obtaining a large amount of your compensation if you win your case, or you being liable for hefty legal costs if you lose your case.
This serious injury guide has been written thanks to sponsorship from Slater and Gordon.