Personal injury is the law applying to compensation claims for people injured as a result of an accident or exposure to an industrial disease. There are many types of personal injury claim: for example, motor claims (car, push-bike and motorcycle accidents); public liability claims (such as claims against the council for slips and trips); employers’ liability claims (accidents at work); and industrial disease claims (such as exposure to hazardous products). Cases can range in value from £1,000 to multi-million pound claims for catastrophic injuries, and since anyone can suffer an injury you will deal with people from all walks of life.
Claimant solicitors initially meet with the client, obtain their instructions and establish the retainer (which is typically no-win-no-fee). After this, solicitors investigate the circumstances of the accident and give notice of the claim to the liable party, resolving liability for the injury if possible. Claimant solicitors will then obtain medical records to substantiate the injury and instruct an independent medical expert to report on the injury. It’s then time to identify the financial losses sustained as a result of the injury, value the claim and negotiate a settlement. If liability is denied or a settlement cannot be agreed then court proceedings are issued, and the case is prepared for trial.
How long can a typical personal injury case take?
There’s a lot of variety in case length. Fast-track cases (valued at under £25,000) are typically concluded within 24 months and are normally handled by one lawyer. On the other hand, catastrophic injury claims may take five years to complete; such claims will be led by a partner, who is supported by other legal advisers conducting different parts of the case. Legal advisers conducting fast-track cases tend to spend their time in the office, while catastrophic injury lawyers spend time out of the office meeting clients and attending meetings with medical and other experts, barristers, other parties to litigation and attending court.
As a catastrophic injury lawyer I generally start work at 7.30 am, though it’s sometimes earlier if I’m travelling to court or to meetings; I typically finish work between 5.30 and 6.30 pm. If a case is going to trial, you could find yourself working weekends as the date gets closer, but planning tends to be more important than working long hours. You may also get to travel: I travel all around the country to see my clients and have previously travelled to India to interview witnesses, spending a week in Mumbai.
The best part of the job is that we get to know the injured person and their family very well during the course of the case, so helping them feels great. The other side of this, however, is the frustration when a client has suffered a catastrophic injury but we cannot establish fault. In the absence of fault there can be no compensation, no matter how seriously injured the individual.
How recession-proof is this area of legal practice?
Generally, personal injury claims are not affected by the recession. However, workplace claims may reduce when there is a reduction in the level of economic activity. Injury claims are constantly subject to innovation and challenge – currently, whiplash claims are the subject of media scrutiny and it’s being debated whether whiplash exists as a condition.
What sort of work will you be given as a trainee solicitor?
Trainees are likely to assist a partner dealing with cases, and attend meetings with clients. They are given the opportunity to draft documents and prepare instructions to experts and barristers.
Types of law practised
Good personal injury solicitors have…
- Empathy with injured people.
- Good organisational skills.
- A keen analytical mind.
- A proactive attitude.
CHRISTOPHER MCKINNEY is a partner in the personal injury practice group at ACCESS LEGAL from SHOOSMITHS. He graduated from the University of Newcastle upon Tyne with a degree in law in 1981.