One of the first questions you might have if you’re thinking about making a personal injury claim is, how long will it take? Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer because the length of your claim is affected by so many different factors. Your solicitor will often be able to give you a rough prediction when you first get in touch with them, but it’s worth bearing in mind that this can change. What we can say is that minor personal injury claims where the other party accepts liability (responsibility) for your accident will usually be settled more quickly. For example, road traffic accidents where the other driver admits responsibility for the accident may take four to six months if the injuries aren’t serious. On the other hand, a high value medical negligence claim which is defended could take three years or even longer to complete.
There are important court rules such as ‘pre-action protocols’, that help to keep personal injury claims within a reasonable time frame, and your solicitor will always work to settle your claim as quickly and efficiently as possible while also making sure you have the best possible chance of getting the compensation you need.
Pre-action protocols set out the rules on how injury claims under £25,000 are dealt with up to the point formal proceedings are issued (if at all). The personal injury Pre-action Protocol, for example, sets out how the claim should be processed. Importantly, both sides have to work to a strict timetable to make sure your claim is dealt with as quickly as possible. Under the Protocol, the other party is allowed three months to investigate and respond to your claim. If needed, your solicitor and the defendant can agree an extension if it’s not possible for them to meet this deadline.
If the other side sticks to the protocol timetable and admits liability, then your claim should be completed within nine months.
If the defendant fails to comply with the time limits, your solicitor can issue proceedings. The court will then issue directions and the defendant has to comply with the court timetable, otherwise your solicitor may be able to ask for judgment in default which means you win your claim.
Pre-action protocols don’t apply to claims worth £25,000 or more. Instead, these cases are allocated to an appropriate ‘track’ which is governed by a separate court process and will take longer.
If your injuries are particularly serious or your claim is complex, it’s likely the process will take longer. Your solicitor might need to get medical evidence from more than one doctor, and other expert witnesses may be also be needed. It might also be necessary for your solicitor to get hold of detailed witness evidence, CCTV footage, relevant documentation and even specialist investigations so that they can make a strong case for you. This can be a time-consuming process.
If the other side refuses to accept responsibility for your accident, then even relatively small claims can take longer because a court hearing might be needed so that your solicitor can prove who was at fault. In some cases, liability may be admitted but a settlement amount can’t be agreed. If this happens, a court hearing will be required where the judge will decide the issue of ‘quantum’, ie. how much compensation is fair.
If you’ve suffered from a serious injury, then we know you’ll be focusing on your recovery – and the last thing you’ll want to be worrying about at such a difficult time is your finances.
However, if you’re still recovering from your injuries, your solicitor might recommend waiting a bit longer before agreeing a settlement. This is to make sure the full impact of your injury is clear before the amount of compensation is agreed, so that you can get the full amount of money you need.
But if the other side has admitted liability, you should be able to receive some of your compensation early – even if the final amount of compensation has not been agreed. These payments are known as an ‘interim payments’.
Put simply, interim payments can help you to cover the immediate costs of your injury – for example, you may have lost your job or had to pay for alterations to your home to suit your needs.
Your claim won’t be concluded until you receive all your compensation. So, if a court allows your injury claim and makes its final order, the other party can’t then just hold onto the compensation money for weeks. The judgment will include an order that the defendant has to pay the compensation to you usually within 21 days of the hearing.
If your compensation isn’t paid quickly, your solicitor can apply to court to have the order enforced and the other party will be responsible for your costs.
Nicola is a dual qualified journalist and non-practising solicitor. She is a legal journalist, editor and author with more than 20 years' experience writing about the law.
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