Brake Family Liaison Officer Handbook: Civil claims

Some police officers working with bereaved and injured families express wariness of personal injury solicitors and civil claims generally. When it comes to professional personal injury solicitors with a specialism in fatal and serious injury road crash civil claims, this wariness is unfounded and potentially damaging to families, preventing them accessing vital funds. While money cannot replace a loved one, it can pay for things that make life more tolerable for families who are facing the worst time of their lives.   

For many people bereaved or injured by a road crash a successful civil claim provides an essential financial life line and, critically, can be pursued at no or very limited cost to the victims themselves.   

For people who have been bereaved by a road crash, a successful civil claim can provide vital financial assistance; particularly, but not exclusively, for those families where a main breadwinner has been killed and there are dependents such as children or elderly people. Claims can provide for a range of costs, from funeral expenses, to providing extensive, on-going living costs for a family raising children in order to cover a lost salary.  

For people seriously injured and their families, a successful civil claim can pay for necessary care in the home and additional health services above and beyond those that the NHS can provide.   

Civil claims often proceed even where criminal prosecutions haven't.   

It is particularly important for police to remember that the burden of proof required in a civil claim is generally lower than that required to proceed with a criminal prosecution. This means that a civil claim against a third party driver may still be possible even if that driver is not being prosecuted with a criminal offence, and even if the person who died or was injured may partly have been to blame (for example, they were a pedestrian who walked into the road).    

It is important to be aware that families will generally not know the above, and may think that because a criminal prosecution is not going ahead, they definitely don't have a civil claim; when they may indeed have a very good claim.    

Police can therefore be an enormous assistance to families by encouraging them to contact a personal injury solicitor with an expertise and experience in dealing with fatal road crashes. This can easily be achieved by calling the Brake helpline on 0808 8000 401, who can provide contact details for your police force areas. A family's initial consultation with a solicitor to find out if they have a claim is generally free.    

It's important to contact a specialist personal injury solicitor reasonably quickly.   

Personal injury solicitors need to, obviously, prepare their cases, and the more time they have, the better. While some information may not be available to them from the police until an investigation is complete, it can help a civil claim if a family's personal injury solicitor is hired in time to attend any inquest or other proceeding that is taking place, gain evidence of injuries, or even consider with the family a second post mortem.    

It is therefore not a good idea to advise a family to delay hiring a personal injury solicitor - this could damage their claim substantially, and after certain lengths of time claims cannot be made at all.    

It is therefore helpful if you can direct families to a specialist personal injury solicitor, to find out if they may or may not have a claim, quite soon after the crash, perhaps in your second or third contact with a family.    

Avoiding sharks and charlatans   

Claims assessors are not personal injury solicitors and are not qualified or regulated. They may offer families a contingency fee, where the family pays a percentage of their awards to their claims assessor if they win. In the case of big claims, this means a family may end up paying an enormous and totally unreasonable amount. You can help families by warding them away from claims assessors and ringing the Brake helpline to contact a specialist personal injury solicitor for a family.   

Brake also has experience of some solicitors offering to take on fatal or serious road crash civil claims when they have little experience in this area. It is very important that families seek the advice and assistance of a solicitor who is a specialist and experienced in dealing with a case such as theirs, and that they don't just hire the solicitor they know who maybe wrote their will or sold their house. Claims for compensation following an injury or death are not always straightforward and it is vital that an expert is found especially if the matter is severe involving the loss of a limb, a head or spinal injury, the death of a loved one, or if the claim concerns potentially negligent medical treatment.   

Further reading   

Read the information in the civil claims section of the Brake bereavement pack Advice for bereaved families and friends following a death on the road for more background knowledge of civil claims in bereavement cases. You can also read Brake's guide for serious injury victims for information about civil claims in serious injury cases.

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