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 solicitors, defend the claim or even pay the compensation.
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 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 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 the 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.
There can be instances where your insurance company refuses to cover you or when you don't have suitable insurance in place for a road collision (i.e. a cyclist injures a pedestrian). In these cases, the claim may be dealt with by the Motor Insurance Bureau who handles uninsured driver claims or you may need to seek your own representation.
Injury Claim by an Employee.
If a member of staff is making a claim for injury, 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 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' 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 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 claimants 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 make sure a suitable settlement is reached with your best interests in mind.
Thanks to a bombardment of TV, radio and online advertising over the last few years, the general public are now well aware of their rights to claim compensation if they've been injured and believe that someone else is to blame.
When these claims are made against a business, either by a member of the public or an employee, it can be a daunting prospect thinking about how to defend the allegations. Especially when you believe that the person's injury claim has little or no merit.
However, there can be partial or full defences levelled against most personal injury (PI) claims so managers and business owners need to have a general awareness of the possible areas a solicitor may explore to defend a case and mitigate the costs of compensation.
Admitting or denying liability in an injury claim.
Firstly, when an injured person (the claimant) makes a compensation claim against a business or individual (the defendant) the question of liability must be considered. Liability is whether the defendant was legally responsible for the incident and the resulting injury, and can also be thought of as being at fault.
When a claim is made a defendant can either:
If a defendant admits full liability, then the claim will come down to the amount of compensation the claimant is entitled to. This amount can still be disputed (i.e. claimant's expenses are not justified) or negotiated (early out of court settlement) to minimise the cost.
If the defendant denies liability or only admits being partially at fault, then a defence to the claim must be entered and there are several broad areas of defence that a solicitor can explore.
Establishing the facts and disputing the claim.
For the claimant to make a successful compensation claim they must prove:
The defendant had a legal duty of care towards the claimant
The defendant acted negligently so was responsible for the accident or incident
The claimant's sustained injuries were caused by the accident or incident
As a defendant you may dispute any of these facts, ranging from how the accident occurred to proving that the injuries and financial losses were not a direct result of the accident.
For example in cases such as a fall on business premises, a defendant may be able to produce CCTV or maintenance records to evidence that there were no hazards in the area and as such were not negligent in their actions.
A company's health and safety policies, procedures and training are often relied on heavily when defending a claim that has occurred at a public place or place of work. So ensuring these records are documented and up to date can be a key evidence in a defence.
Defence against personal injury claim.
In extreme cases the defendant may dispute the fact that the accident even occurred at all and allege that the claimant is acting fraudulently. If evidence supports this allegation then not only can a case be dismissed, but the claimant may find themselves prosecuted and found 'fundamentally dishonest' forcing them to pay a defendant's legal costs.
Alternatively, it may be accepted that there was an injury which was caused by the accident however the defendant may be able to obtain expert evidence to show the claimant is exaggerating their symptoms and losses.
While not a complete defence, contributory negligence is where the injured person is in some way at fault for the accident or incident which caused their injuries. So, while the defendant was partially to blame, so was the claimant.
For example, in road accident claims contributory negligence is often applied in cases where the injured person wasn't wearing a seatbelt. While the defendant may have caused the accident by colliding with the claimant, the injuries the claimant sustained were also partially due to their own negligence in not wearing a seatbelt. As such if the claimant was awarded £4,000 for their injuries but found to have been 25% to blame for contributing to them, only £3,000 would need to be paid by the defendant.
If contributory negligence can be proved, against the claimant or another involved party (i.e. the manufacturer of faulty equipment), it can have a dramatic effect on the final compensation amount awarded.
You may have heard stories about burglars being injured and attempting to sue the owners of a property for compensation. While this could hypothetically occur, a defence for this scenario would be that the claimant was injured whist committing a criminal act.
A defence of 'illegality' can be used where a person was involved in criminal activity at the time of the accident, such as in cases of unlawfully trespassing. In situations such as these the defendant would not have a duty of care towards the claimant and a claim would most likely fail.
Claim is out of time
Someone making an injury claim has three years from the date of the accident or incident to start formal court proceedings (issue a claim with the court). This three-year time limit however is not always straightforward as it may also start from the date the person first had knowledge of the injury which may be several years after the incident that caused it, such as in industrial decease cases. In the case of children, the three-year limitation period doesn’t start until they become an adult on their 18th birthday, so a child injured at age 10 will have until they are 21 to lodge a claim.
These timeframes are dictated by the Limitation Act and if a claim is submitted outside the limitation period it can be very difficult for a claimant to show a valid reason why a claim wasn't submitted in the allowed timeframe. Therefore, often the claim may be dismissed regardless of the injury, circumstances or liability.
Contesting a personal injury claim.
A poorly defended compensation claim can cost your business thousands and in extreme cases result in its closure. While rigorously defending a lost cause is not likely to be cost effective, a thorough and carefully constructed defence can mitigate the compensation your business is exposed to.
If your business is fortunate enough to have relevant employer's liability or public liability insurance in place, then your insurance company may provide a solicitor to fight the PI claim on your behalf. Therefore, when you speak to them it's important to have an idea of what facts you dispute and evidence you can provide to support your case.
If your business doesn't have valid insurance to cover a compensation claim, then it is critical to seek a solicitor to advise you on your defence options as soon as possible. Contesting a personal injury claim can be a complex task, but the sooner you seek advice the better your defence prospects will be.
According to the Department for Transport's figures the latest number of hit and run accidents was 17,122 which is an 2.7% increase from the 2014 figure of 16,667.
Research commissioned by the Motor Insurers' Bureau (MIB), the organisation who compensates drivers for hit and run accidents, suggests that some drivers didn't stop because they didn’t know they had to. Of course there may be more likely reasons such as the driver had been drinking, did not have a licence or a valid motor insurance policy.
Hit and run and the Road Traffic Act
What to do after a hit and run road accident
Witnesses to a hit and run
Are there any independent witnesses? If so, ask them what they saw, whether they have additional information about the vehicle and the driver. Ask them for contact details so that the police, insurance company or your legal representative can contact them at a later date if required.
Are there any CCTV cameras in the area? Is it possible there may be a recording of the accident or the vehicle that didn’t stop? If the CCTV is attached to premises that are open see if you can speak to someone and ask them to keep the recording as it may be needed to trace the driver that did not stop.
Do you have a dashcam installed? If so remember to remove it and the memory card if your vehicle is being taken by the police or to a garage.
Claiming after a hit and run accident
If your vehicle is driveable, once you're home contact your insurer and report the accident to them. Find out what assistance your insurer can provide in relation to repairs. It may be that your insurer will not pay out for all the losses you have sustained and you may have to pay your policy excess , so it may be worthwhile contacting a solicitor for some initial legal advice on the various options available to you.
Most importantly the accident should always be reported to the police as soon as possible. If the driver is not traced and your insurance policy does not cover all the losses you have sustained as a result of the hit and run then you may be able to claim against the MIB.
If this is the case the MIB has strict time limits for involving the police. If you are only claiming for property damage (your vehicle, cargo, personal items etc.) then the accident must be reported to the police within 5 days. If you are claiming for injury you have to report the accident to the police within 14 days.
Catalyst Law are team of legal professionals with over 20 years' experience helping businesses and people with their legal problems.
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