Motor insurers have a habit of trying to settle your personal injury claim as quickly as possible.
This is not likely to be in your best interests. Arguably, it is not in their best interests either.
We recently received the following email enquiry via our website from a lady we will call Alison (which is not her real name):
“I was in a car accident about 3 weeks ago, which was no fault on my part. I have been suffering with a bad neck and headaches since. I lost a week at work and have had to cut down my hours at work due to this accident as I just feel it was aggravating my neck. The insurance company are offering me £2,000?! Does this sound fair?”
The main risk from this brief scenario is under-settling the claim’s value. It gives us a chance to explore how a solicitor can save you from settling your personal injury claim too soon, making sure as far as possible that you get fair compensation.
Scottish claims only
The first thing we had to ask Alison was whether she is local to Moray, as we are best placed to help people who are local to us. Indeed, if Alison was outwith the UK (and even if she was outwith Scotland) we would probably not be good solicitors to be advising her at all. There could be significant differences in the laws about what compensation you can claim and, at the very least, significant procedural differences.
Valuing the claim for the injury
Assuming this was a Scottish claim, if the injury had been the only element of the claim, it was possible that £2,000 could be a good offer, especially if Alison made a full recovery within the next 1 to 2 weeks (i.e. within about a month or so of the accident).
Claims for personal injury generally get valued according to
- the nature of your the original injury, and
- the length of time it takes you to recover.
Alison had suffered a whiplash injury from which she was still recovering. That makes it difficult – even impossible – to get a handle on a fair value for the claim yet. She might be fully recovered by next week, but what if her symptoms were to continue for another 3 months, or longer?
Solicitors refer to the Judicial College Guidelines to get a general idea of the likely value of particular injuries.
Guidance on valuing neck injuries
The section of the guidance which deals with “minor” neck injuries includes minor soft tissue injuries. The duration of your symptoms is emphasised as important in determining the valuation.
The level of compensation you might receive is also affected by factors such as:
- the seriousness of your neck injury;
- the strength of the pain you experience and how continuous the symptoms are;
- the presence of additional symptoms in the back and/or shoulder;
- the presence of referred pain, such as headaches;
- the impact of the symptoms on your day-to-day functioning and ability to engage in social/recreational activities;
- the impact of the injuries on your ability to work;
- the extent of any medical treatment you require; and
- whether you need to take medication to control your pain.
As an example, where you make a full recovery from a neck injury within a period of a few days, a few weeks or a few months, the JC Guidelines recommend a valuation range between a few hundred pounds and just over £1,700.
The JC values are just for the injury. Alison’s injury could probably already be valued at in excess of £1,000.
Wage loss in addition – and other losses?
Alison’s email showed that she was losing wages too. That’s an additional head of claim. There might be other claims too, for example, for “services” (help from relatives).
In many cases, wage loss is straightforward to work out, as it is a matter of arithmetic. However, in Alison’s situation, her wage loss had not yet crystallised. It was a continuing and unpredictable amount.
The extent of both Alison’s injuries and her wage loss were not clear, so it was not a safe situation in which to be considering settling the claim, in our view.
The proper way to do things would be to wait until she has fully recovered and then get medical evidence, including a full medical report, and a letter from her employers to confirm her wage loss.
Assuming (which is likely) that her claim was not against her employers, she might have a clause in her contract which entitles her employers to claim back from the third party any wages they have paid to her while she was off sick. By settling her claim “too soon” she could cause problems with her employers if she destroys their chances of recovering money from the third party as part of her claim.
“DIY claim” advice (with disclaimer)
If you are intent on “advising yourself” on whether you should accept a “pre-medical” offer from an insurer (which we would not recommend), the way to look at it is to consider what you think your wage loss is or is likely to be and deduct that from the insurers’ offer. The amount that is left gives you a very broad idea of how much you are being offered for your injuries and you can decide whether you think that is fair (again, we do not advise you to do this).
Help from your solicitor free of charge
In this type of situation, local solicitors are particularly well placed to help you with advice on whether a pre-medical offer is reasonable or not. With the way the system works, they will probably be able to get paid for advising you by the third party insurers and that in a way which will not affect the amount of compensation you receive. In our experience, the worst case outcome if you instruct a local solicitor is that you will not get any more than the insurers are currently offering you; but you will not get any less. There’s nothing to lose by engaging a specialist, local solicitor to help you.
How we can help
If you have any questions about this article or if you have received an early settlement offer from an insurance company as part of a personal injury claim, feel free to contact us.
All enquiries are free of charge and without obligation. If we can’t help you directly, we probably know someone else who can.