When you make a personal injury claim, it can feel very daunting. You might be worried that you’ll have to attend court with a solicitor to prove your case, which can be quite scary. But it’s unlikely you’ll have to attend court in person if you make a personal injury claim. No one wants their case to go to court – not even the person you’re claiming against – which is why most injury claims are actually settled before proceedings are issued. Very few cases do end up in court, and when they do it’s usually only high value claims, or ones where the defendant has refused to accept responsibility for your injury. Sometimes, a claim is settled after court proceedings have been started. If this happens, it’s still unlikely you’ll have to go to court. Even if you did have to attend, you don’t need to worry that you’ll be facing a jury; it’s a civil claim and not a criminal trial, so the hearing will be before a judge. Your solicitor will also be with you to guide you, the experience is not nearly as daunting as you might imagine.
Your solicitor may decide to issue court proceedings because the other side is not complying with what is known as the pre-action protocol process, or because negotiations to settle your claim have reached an impasse – or in simple terms, where the case is unable to progress because of a disagreement over who was liable for your accident.
If there is a court hearing before your claim is settled, your solicitor or barrister will likely be able to appear on your behalf. In high value cases, you could be asked by the judge to attend in person, in certain circumstances, for:
This is where the judge decides that more information is needed from both sides to be able to progress the case further. During the hearing, the judge will decide whether your case should be on fast track (lower value) or multi track (higher value) based on this new evidence.
Also known as a Case Management Conference, the CMC is where your solicitor and the solicitor for the party you’re claiming against meet with the judge to discuss how the case will be handled. In some cases, you may also need to attend.
If you’re expected to attend either an allocation hearing or a case management conference, don’t worry: your solicitor will be able to support and advise you throughout the process.
A judge may issue proceedings, but there’s still a chance that your claim might be settled after the judge has done this. This means negotiations will be continuing between your solicitor and the other side with the aim of avoiding a final court hearing. For example, the defendant may make an offer to settle – you and your solicitor must then carefully consider whether you should accept it. Sometimes, a joint settlement meeting will be arranged, out of court. If this happens in your case, one of two things can happen:
In fact, it’s rare that joint settlement meetings do not successfully result in a satisfactory settlement – both you and the other side are expected to try to settle the claim right the way through any ongoing proceedings.
A final court hearing will take place if all efforts to agree a settlement have failed. In some cases, whoever you’re claiming against might contest the whole claim, or just part of it. In other cases, the other party may accept liability for your injuries, but are contesting the compensation amount that has been suggested is owed to you (also known as the quantum). The judge will have to hear all the evidence before deciding issues of liability and quantum – or quantum only if liability is admitted by whoever you’re claiming against.
If your claim is relatively low value (up to £25,000) you might not have to appear in person and your solicitor can argue your case for you. In higher value cases, you will be expected to attend court to give evidence at the final hearing. This may sound daunting but your solicitor will make sure you’re fully prepared and to help you through the process on the day.
At the final hearing, your barrister (or a specialist advocate) will set out your claim before the judge. Then, you’ll be asked to provide evidence about:
You and your solicitor will already have worked together to prepare this evidence to give to the judge, so you won’t be caught off guard. You’ll probably be completely familiar with the claim in any case by this point, so this really should be a straightforward experience for you.
Next, your barrister will ask you a few questions; then the barrister for the other side will also ask you some questions. Usually, this is simply to test your evidence and your memory of events and clarify any issues to help the judge to make the right decision. You may have witnesses supporting your case, and they will also be expected to give their evidence in the same way.
When all the evidence has been heard, the judge will make their final decision in the form of a judgment. However, any settlement offers which have previously been discussed between you and the other side won’t be known to the judge, so you don’t need to be worried that any refusal of an offer made will count against you when the judge decides your claim.
The final judgment will state who the judge decides, on balance, is legally responsible for the accident (if in issue) – and if you win, the amount of compensation that should be awarded to you.
Nicola is a dual qualified journalist and former solicitor. She is a legal journalist, editor and author with more than 20 years’ experience writing about the law.
Nicola is a dual qualified journalist and former solicitor. She is a legal journalist, editor and author with more than 20 years' experience writing about the law.
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