Practice Area Focus: Personal injury

Personal injury work covers all injuries sustained by individuals due to the negligence of a third party. A personal injury lawyer may deal with a wide range of injuries including catastrophic brain and spinal injuries, industrial diseases such as mesothelioma due to exposure to asbestos and injuries sustained as a result of a workplace accident.

What is personal injury?

Personal injury work covers all injuries sustained by individuals due to the negligence of a third party. A personal injury lawyer may deal with a wide range of injuries including catastrophic brain and spinal injuries, industrial diseases such as mesothelioma due to exposure to asbestos and injuries sustained as a result of a workplace accident.

Managing a personal injury file varies from case to case. It is necessary to gather evidence to prove the claimant’s losses, therefore evidence will be prepared in relation to heads of claim including loss of earnings, pensions, equipment, therapies, accommodation, care, case management and medical treatment. The experts that the lawyer will instruct to assess the claimant and prepare the expert reports will depend on the individual claimant’s injuries and ongoing difficulties.

In more serious injury cases, the lawyer will often be involved in setting up support and therapies to assist the client using interim payments.

What is the working culture like in a personal injury team?

The most notable aspect of our team is the approachability of all members of the team, from the paralegals through to the partner. It is an incredibly supportive environment. The team is very busy, and whilst the working hours are generally very reasonable, we all work extremely hard to progress our cases and ensure our clients’ needs are being met.

What is the typical makeup of a personal injury lawyer’s client base?

Our clients are usually individuals who approach us after a personal recommendation or after locating us online. Some people are recommended to us via support groups. We also have arrangements with insurance companies and other companies who refer their customers to us, e.g. a road traffic insurer in fast track cases.

Which other practice areas do you work most closely with?

I work in the catastrophic injury team, and a large number of our clients lack mental capacity as a result of a brain injury. As they lack the mental capacity to manage their own financial affairs as well as their litigation, our Court of Protection team will apply for a Professional Deputy to be appointed to manage the client’s finances. Our team works closely with the Court of Protection team in this respect, particularly as we will be working to secure the interim funding from the defendant as part of the litigation.

Issues may arise relating to the client’s employment following injury, for example, an employer may take steps to make a client redundant whilst the client is recovering, or the client may be unfairly dismissed. In such circumstances, we will seek advice from our employment team.

Sadly, relationships may break down following serious injury, and our family team may become involved. This is however quite separate from the personal injury claim.

What skills make a good personal injury lawyer?

Empathy, patience and sensitivity are essential. Where a client has sustained life changing, permanent catastrophic injuries, they are likely to be shocked, confused, frustrated and will require a high level of support, reassurance and explanation. It is important to learn how to communicate with a client who may have behavioural, emotional or communication difficulties.

It is important to keep to deadlines imposed by the Court. Organisation, practicality and flexibility are also vital skills, as running a caseload is very demanding, and urgent issues can arise at any moment, which must be dealt with.

What impact has the recession had on your practice area?

Whilst no practice area is truly “recession proof”, personal injury work has been largely unaffected in terms of levels of work. Negligent acts or omissions continue regardless of the recession, and as the majority of our claims are funded by way of conditional fee agreement, there have been no issues to date regarding clients obtaining funding for their claims.

Which prominent personal injury cases has your firm been involved in?

We represented Ben Parkinson, a young paratrooper who lost both legs following being involved in a bomb blast while serving in Afghanistan. Following an offer of compensation from the Ministry of Defence of just £152,150.00 (significantly less than a civil personal injury claim would have amounted to) and a High Court action for judicial review, the Ministry of Defence indicated for the first time that they would review the rules relating to Armed Forces claims leading to an improvement in the Government scheme.

What do you think will be the future shape of personal injury departments?
Changes introduced by the Legal Services Act are likely to have an impact on personal injury practice, which will become more efficient and business focussed. Specialists like my team will need to focus on the “value added” element of the service and be able to attract new work in a more diverse market. I anticipate more and more personal injury lawyers will be recruited from a variety of backgrounds with varied skill sets, to continue building a dynamic and forward thinking personal injury team.

Which phrase is a personal injury lawyer most likely to use and what does it mean?

“Rehabilitation”. Rehabilitation is the process of restoring the skills that the injured person has lost, to maximise independence and allow them to have as meaningful a life as possible. Rehabilitation is at the centre of our team’s ethos, and our first consideration when taking new instructions.