The Limitation Act 1980 plays a significant part in personal injury litigation. It stipulates that injured claimants have 3 years from the date of their accident (or date of knowledge of injury) in which to bring their claims. Bringing your claim does not mean just instructing a solicitor; you have to actually issue a claim form at court and pay a fee. If you fail to do this then you are likely to lose your chance to claim compensation and any claim you try to bring outside the 3 year period will only proceed subject to the court’s discretion which is rarely granted.
In November 2013, I was approached by a new client who had been involved in a road traffic accident 2 years, 11 months and 21 days beforehand. Limitation was due to expire for her claim within a few days. A vehicle had driven over her foot in a pub car park and as a result she had suffered a severe crush injury to her foot. The injury had meant that she had not been able to work since the accident.
Any solicitor approached with such a claim is naturally cautious as the risk is so much higher with an impending limitation date. You normally have to ensure that the claim form is issued in time and then you will have a maximum period of 4 months to investigate the claim, obtain a formal expert medical report and prepare a schedule of financial loss. The work is pressurised and can be stressful. Some firms of solicitors would not accept instructions in such situations.
I agreed to help my client and accepted instructions to act on her behalf. I issued court proceedings and then quickly got to work securing a formal admission of liability from the car driver’s insurers, obtaining a formal expert medical report and details of my client’s losses within the 4 month period. This is not to say the evidence was finalised within that time but the court allowed a generous timetable to allow the parties to investigate further to understand the true value of the claim.
Whilst my client had left it late, I was still able to do a good job for her. Unfortunately the prognosis of her injury was not optimistic and she was likely to need fusion surgery on her foot in later years. I obtained a settlement in excess of £50,000 which covered her future medical costs for the surgery and a significant amount for loss of earnings.
The question people will ask is why my client left it so long to bring a claim. She knew of the 3 year limitation date but had been so consumed by other issues in her life that she did not seek professional legal advice until so late in the day. Fortunately, she did contact me just in time and I was able to secure her the compensation she deserved.
I would advise anyone who has a potential claim for personal injury to seek legal advice at an early stage. The longer you leave it the more difficult it gets. Important documentation can be destroyed, witnesses’ memories can fade over time, and it can be more difficult to secure a just level of compensation.