Receiving a letter from solicitors informing that someone is making an injury claim against you can certainly have a negative impact on your day.
Depending on the circumstances of the accident, you may be confronted with a Letter of Claim or a Claim Notification Form which set out full details of the alleged incident and injuries. But no matter what correspondence you receive there will be strict response timeframes set that you will be told you need to abide by.
Often the first reaction to this letter is one of worry, as you may not know how you are going to respond to the claimant's solicitors, defend the claim or even pay the compensation. You may even be angry as your believe it is a fraudulent or false personal injury claim.
However, the good news is that the vast majority of claims are usually covered by some kind of insurance policy and we're going to explain the scenarios where insurance may cover the claim as well as your options when no insurance is available.
Defending Road Traffic Accidents.
As it's a legal requirement that you must have at least third-party motor insurance to drive on UK roads, the claim against you is likely to be fully covered by your vehicle insurance. While it is likely your insurer has already been notified of the accident and subsequent claim, your first action should be to advise them of the solicitor documentation you have received.
One important item to remember is that not having the optional 'Legal Expenses Cover' on your policy will not stop your insurance company acting to defend a claim made against you. Comprehensive, fire and theft, and third party insurance should all provide sufficient cover to defend a car accident claim against you.
When you report the claim, you will almost certainly be asked about the accident circumstances, vehicle damage and any evidence you have. This will be used to establish liability (fault) for the accident which will determine how your insurance company handles the claim.
Your insurer should then deal with the matter from this point forward including complying with the various deadlines and disclosure requirements. If the case gets to the stage of court proceedings, then your insurer will also appoint a solicitor to defend the case who may also want to discuss the incident with you.
Motor Insurance Bureau (MIB)
There can be instances where your insurance company refuses to cover you or you don't have suitable insurance in place for a road collision (i.e. an expired van or car insurance policy). In these cases, the claim may be dealt with by the Motor Insurance Bureau who handles uninsured and untraced driver claims.
This may then lead to a further claim where the Motor Insurance Bureau is claiming against you following an accident they've defended on your behalf due to your lack of insurance.
In the case of an MIB claim against you or where there is no motor insurance policy (i.e. a cyclist injures a pedestrian), then you may need to seek your own representation.
Injury Claim by an Employee.
If a member of staff is making a claim for an injury at work, usually your Employers' Liability Insurance will cover your business' legal costs to defend the claim, as well the payment of any compensation that is ultimately awarded.
Often the Claim Notification Form from the claimant will specifically request your insurer's details (or Portal ID) and instruct you to pass the documents on to them. Once this is done, your business insurer will begin investigating the incident and appoint one of their panel solicitors should it become necessary.
For most businesses that have employees, this type of insurance is compulsory under the appropriately named Employers' Liability (Compulsory Insurance) Act. However, there are some exceptions where employee insurance isn't mandatory such as:
If an injury claim is made by an employee and no appropriate business insurance covers the claim, then you will need to seek legal advice as soon as possible. There are various 'pre-action protocol' steps and deadlines that need to be met and failing to comply with them can have a significant impact on the cost of the claim.
Injury Claim by a Customer or Member of the Public.
Unlike other types of insurance, taking out Public Liability Insurance is optional for a business. If in place, it will cover your business premises when customers visit you (office, shop, salon etc.) as well as if a member of the public is injured during the course of your work.
While Public Liability Insurance covers you for day-to-day business activities, it often doesn't cover you for injuries caused by a product you have manufactured or supplied. For this Product Liability Insurance is often required.
So you will need to consider which of your insurance policies applies to the circumstances that allegedly caused the claimant's injury.
If your business has a suitable Public or Product Liability Insurance policy the claim documentation can be passed on to them. As with Employers' Liability Insurance the policy should cover legal fees to defend the case along with the payment of any compensation that is awarded by the court or agreed in settlement by your insurer.
However, as Product/Public Liability Insurance isn't mandatory and there can be various exclusions depending on the policy purchased, it is the area where we see the most claims that need to be dealt with on a private basis.
Injury Claim Against a Homeowner.
If someone has been injured whilst lawfully on your property or in your home, then your Home Insurance may cover the cost of the claim depending on the accident circumstances. The 'personal liability' or 'liability to the public' section of a Home Insurance Policy often covers the owners and occupiers if they are held responsible for an accident that occurs in or around the property.
Some Home Insurance products even provide cover for policyholders away from the property, so it is a policy always worth checking.
There can however be many exclusions to Home Insurance liability cover, so you will need to consult your policy and speak to your insurer about whether a claim is covered. Common exclusions may be:
I've a personal injury claim against me with no insurance....
After you've exhausted the potential insurance policies that may indemnify you, you may find that you're on your own in dealing with the claim.
At this point it is critical to seek a personal injury defence lawyer who can advise you on how the claim should be handled. They can review the circumstances around the injury, provide a professional opinion of the prospects of the claim and advise on the potential next steps.
Even if you don't wish to defend the claim and want to admit liability for the accident, a defence solicitor will still be able to value the claim and make sure a suitable settlement is reached with your best interests in mind.
Being a business owner means that making agreements and signing contracts can be a regular occurrence. These formal agreements protect your business and ensure that suppliers, business partners and even customers uphold their end of the contract.
The clauses that are present in these contracts form the backbone of a business's operations, covering the supply of goods, delivery of services, timeframes for completion and when payments are due. As such not complying with any of the conditions in a contract will often lead to a dispute.
When a party fails to fulfil the terms and conditions in a written agreement, without a lawful or valid excuse, this is referred to as a breach of contract and you must decide how to deal with the breaking of the agreement.
But before you start filling out the court forms, a first step in dealing with a breach is to formally advise the other party with written notice, known as a 'Letter of Claim' or 'Letter Before Action'.
So it's important to understand the purpose and consequences of a Breach of Contract Letter Before Action prior to issuing one.
What is a Letter Before Action?
A Letter Before Action is the starting point of many forms of civil legal proceedings and basically sets out your legal claim. It's important to keep in mind that while a Letter Before Action is the first step in taking formal action, it should be the last step in trying to deal with the issue informally.
Calling in lawyers and involving the court at the first inkling of a problem usually won't be helpful. If an aspect of a contract has not been complied with or is outstanding, then a polite (but firm) enquiry to the other party on the reason and how they intend to resolve the issue should be your first act.
Then if informal discussions don't start the process to resolve the issue, sending a Letter Before Action is often a low-cost route to opening a dialogue with the other side to achieve a resolution.
What should a letter before action contain?
Background and context
The letter should start by referencing the specific contract or agreement that has been breached, when it came into force and what it covers. You shouldn't assume that the person who deals with the letter is aware of the existing business relationship and that an agreement is in place.
Circumstances and facts
Briefly explain what has occurred and how it is considered to be a breach of the agreement. Ideally point to a specific obligation or clause in the contract and how this obligation hasn't been met. There may also be breaches to legislation or statutory rights (such as the Sale of Goods Act) that can be referred to. If the failure has resulted in a loss or damage that can be calculated, then this should also be included.
Remedy and resolution
State how the breach can be remedied and how the matter can be resolved to your satisfaction. This resolution will be down to the type of agreement and specifics of the breach, but could involve immediate payment of an outstanding amount, the return of a supplied product, cancelling of a service/contract or a monetary payment to cover a loss.
Timeframe and response
A reasonable period should be given for the other party to comply or at least acknowledge and respond to the letter. A timeframe of at least 14 days would be a minimum, however there may be a relevant pre action protocol that the letter needs to specifically comply with such as with Debt Claims or Construction and Engineering Disputes.
Consequences and legal action
Finally, the whole point of the Letter Before Action is to set out your claim and place the other party on notice that a failure to act could lead to you starting legal proceedings. This should be stated in the letter along with highlighting that you will also be looking to recover any additional costs that are involved with court action from them as well.
Legal Advice with a Breach of Contract Letter.
Before starting down the path of court action, it's always advisable to seek some initial legal advice. While the breach may be an obvious one, a contract dispute lawyer will be able to advise you on your right of action, prospects, how any damages would be calculated and what legal proceedings may cost.
Importantly a solicitor can also draft your Letter Before Action ensuring it accurately represents your claim and that it complies with the court's Civil Procedure Rules and Pre-action Protocols.
A well-researched and professionally drafted Letter Before Action is your best chance of achieving an early and cost-effective resolution to a contract dispute, so it's well worth getting a solicitor involved from the outset.
If you purchase a second-hand item from a business, trader or charity shop, the consumer rights that you are entitled to are extremely similar to those you have when buying an item that's brand new. Namely the goods should be:
These rights in the UK are defined in the Consumer Rights Act and cover any purchase from a trader made since October 2015.
If you discover a fault with an item, this act gives you the right to return it for a full refund within the first 30 day of purchase. After the first 30 days (but within the first 6 months) you can still return the item, but you must give the retailer the opportunity to replace or repair the fault.
After 6 months, to return the item you must prove that the fault was present when it was first purchased, which can be more difficult if a product was second hand or pre-owned from the outset.
Second hand products may have imperfections and faults that are attributed to normal wear and tear. In some cases, there may be quality issues with a product due to its age and how it has been previously used.
When considering the laws on buying second hand goods and your consumer rights, it's important to remember that second hand products or refurbished goods do not have to be of the same quality as new items. Therefore, you cannot simply reject an item because it is not of the same standard as you would expect if it was brand new.
Fit for Purpose with second hand goods.
Fit for purpose means that the item must function correctly and last for a period of time that is 'reasonable'. In relation to used goods the item should function fully for the purpose it was designed and sold for. However, being a used item, it may show signs of being pre-owned and not last as long as you would expect a brand-new item to last.
Satisfactory Quality with second hand goods.
Satisfactory quality is basically a standard that a reasonable person would consider as acceptable taking into consideration the item's description, price and circumstances of the purchase. It is most often relating to a product's appearance, freedom from defect, durability and safety. Obviously, the quality of an item can be subjective, but expectations should generally be lower if you purchase an item that has been previously used.
As Described with second hand goods.
As described means that an item must be accurately advertised and described by the trader. If you asked questions about the product in store prior to purchasing, such as its warranty status, service history or how it currently operates, the information given should all be correct. Likewise, if the salesperson advises you of a fault with an item, then it is 'as described' and you can't reject it due to it having the fault.
Warranty on second hand goods.
Warranties or guarantees are an optional addition to your legal (statutory) rights as a consumer.
Warranty can be provided by the manufacturer as part of the product or able to be purchased separately and ran by a third party (e.g. used-car warranty, extended appliance guarantee etc.)
Your eligibility to claim under the warranty will depend on its terms and conditions, however it is not uncommon for there to be numerous exclusions. These can range from the age of the item (12 months from original purchase), where it was purchased from (an authorised retailer or dealership), being conditional on regular maintenance (serviced every year) or limited to certain faults (excludes wear and tear).
The specific warranty policy needs to be checked to confirm if an item is eligible for a repair or return. But it is always worth checking especially on recently manufactured products.
Buying second hand goods online.
When buying second hand goods online, over the telephone, at home or through mail order from a retailer you will also benefit from additional protections. Namely the Consumer Contract Regulations, or to give it its full name The Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013.
These regulations cover what was previously known as 'Distance Selling' and provides some extra rights, even when purchasing a used product. These rights include:
The retailer is entitled to expect that anything sent back is returned in the exact condition as it was received. This can sometimes be a point of dispute when returning second hand goods as they are likely to have not been in original packaging etc. in the first instance.
An important point to remember when buying second hand products online is that not every website purchase is classed as buying from a business. When you buy from sites such as eBay, Facebook Marketplace, Gumtree, Shpock or Amazon Marketplace you will need to check if the actual seller is a business or trader. As if they are a private individual, then consumer rights and contract protections will not apply to your purchase.
However many online trading sites do have their own buyer protection policies and dispute resolution processes which may be able to be used.
Consumer Rights and private sellers.
If you purchase items from a private seller via a web advertisement, local newspaper ad or car boot sale it is important to be aware that you don't have any consumer rights. For the Consumer Rights Act to apply you need to be an individual making a purchase from a business.
If you do buy a second-hand item from a private individual it only has to match any advertised description. This limited protection falls under The Misrepresentation Act for when an untrue fact or statement is made by the seller to convince a buyer to make a purchase.
A private seller isn't under any obligation to tell you about any faults or defects, and there's no requirement for the item to be of satisfactory quality or suitable for any specific purpose.
So, as you may have heard, purchasing from a private seller is a matter of 'buyer beware'. You should check the product thoroughly to ensure you are 100% happy before buying it.
Legal advice on second hand rights.
In the majority of cases once you make the retailer aware of the fault, they should deal with your concerns inline with your consumer rights. If they refuse, the next step is escalating the matter as a complaint and then involving any associated ombudsman which should be detailed in the retailer's terms and conditions.
If all these steps fail, your only available method of resolution may be to start court proceedings. If the value of your claim is less than £10,000, it will be treated as a 'small claim' which means there are set fees to issue the claim and only limited legal expenses are able to be added (see our guide on how much does it cost to take someone to court).
Therefore if the value of your consumer claim is significant, it will be worthwhile seeking legal advice on your dispute before beginning court action to ensure the consumer laws are on your side.
Catalyst Law are team of legal professionals with over 20 years' experience helping businesses and people with their legal problems.
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