Personal Injury & Clinical Negligence
Personal Injury & Clinical Negligence Law Explained
Personal injury law deals with injuries caused by an accident, error, neglect, or wrong-doing. In a typical personal injury case, an injured person claims financial compensation from the person or organisation who caused the injury. Usually the solicitors of the two parties will negotiate a settlement—an amount of money the defendant pays to the claimant—but if an agreement can't be reached the claimant may be able to go to court.
The definition of personal injury includes both physical and psychological injuries resulting from a wide range of situations. Some examples of personal injuries include:
- Workers who are exposed to dangerous chemicals at work, and so become ill as a result.
- A driver causes a traffic accident in which someone else is injured.
- Someone is hurt while using a product they purchased.
- Someone in a public building slips and falls on a wet floor that wasn't marked with a warning sign.
- The victim of a crime experiences physical or psychological trauma as a direct result of the crime.
Clinical negligence or medical negligence is a kind of personal injury. In these cases, the injury is caused by a medical professional such as a doctor or nurse, often through neglect or carelessness. For instance, if you're allergic to a drug such as penicillin—and the allergy is documented in your medical records—then if you are prescribed and administered penicillin while in hospital, this may constitute clinical negligence on the part of the prescribing doctor.
The Process of Making a Personal Injury Claim
What to do after the incident
If you're injured in a way that is the fault of someone else, there are some things that you can do to make it easier to make a compensation claim.
For instance, write down all the details of the incident as soon as possible after it occurs, and take photos of any visual evidence of the incident. Report the injury to any appropriate people or organisations, and get whatever medical treatment is necessary. If your injury occurs in a traffic accident or is the result of a crime, you'll also need to make a police report.
Making a claim
When you’re ready to make a compensation claim, the easiest way to get started is to contact a law firm for advice. They should give you legal advice on whether you have a case, and the kind of financial compensation you can claim. In order to do this, they’ll need to hear details about the incident, how it happened, and where. As well as this you may need to provide details and proof of how the injury has affected you; for instance, whether you’ve lost earnings as a result of not being able to work, or have suffered any other kind of financial hardship due to the injury.
On your authority the solicitor will then write and send a letter to notify the defendant—the person or organisation responsible for your injury—that you are making a personal injury claim. After they receive the letter the defendant has a period of time of up to three months in which to officially accept or deny responsibility.
If the defendant accepts responsibility your solicitor will typically negotiate with the defendant’s solicitor to reach a compensation settlement. This may include several rounds of back-and-forth negotiation as the solicitors try to negotiate a settlement figure that both you and the defendant agree on. Negotiation usually ends in one of two ways: a settlement offer is made which you accept, or you and the defendant can’t agree on a settlement amount.
Going to court
If the defendant denies responsibility for your injury, you then have the option of challenging them in court. You can also choose this option if you and the defendant can’t agree on a settlement amount.
To take the matter to the courts, your solicitor will file documents to start the proceedings. Your case will be assigned a date, time, and place for the hearing, and a judge who will listen to the case. At the hearing you and the defendant—or your solicitors—will have your say. You will then have the chance to present any evidence you have about how the injury occurred, and the effect it’s had on you.
Once the judge has heard evidence from you and the defendant they will make a decision. If the judge decides the defendant is responsible for your injury, they will award you a sum as compensation.
How can a Solicitor Help?
Once you’ve talked to a solicitor about your injury, they should be able to give you some advice about pursuing a settlement claim. They should explain all the legal processes involved, and how they will proceed with the claim. As well as this, they can give you advice about all the matters relating to your claim, and carry out a range of different tasks:
- How likely you are to win your case, either via a settlement, or a court hearing.
- An approximate amount of compensation they think you can claim.
- Advise you of the best course of action to take. Note that your solicitor is representing your best interests, which means they’ll be aiming to win the highest amount of compensation they can. However, the ultimate decision is yours: if you’re willing to agree to a lower compensation amount to avoid a court hearing, it’s your choice to do so.
- Once the process of claiming compensation starts, your solicitor should represent you in all interactions and negotiations with the defendant. Usually this means they’ll be negotiating with the defendant’s own solicitor. If you are making an insurance claim they may also negotiate with your insurance company.
- If your case goes to court they’ll prepare and file all the documents needed to get the process started, and prepare documentation and evidence needed at or after the hearing.
In legal terms it's not strictly necessary to work with a solicitor in order to claim financial compensation for a personal injury, but it's often the case that a private citizen doesn't have the knowledge or resources to pursue such a claim successfully. Working with a solicitor may also allow you to claim and win a greater sum of compensation, depending on the nature and circumstances of your injury.