The paramount goal of personal injury claims is to put injured people back into the same position as they would have been in had the negligent event not occurred. In line with this purpose is the knowledge that their long-term prognosis can be significantly improved with early rehabilitative intervention.
It can, however, take many months or even years for settlement to be reached in personal injury cases. If claimants are required to wait for treatment because they are unable to fund it without compensation, they run the risk that the benefits of early rehabilitative intervention can be lost.
To attempt to remedy this problem, the pre-action protocol for personal injury claims provides a voluntary code of practice on rehabilitation, early intervention and medical treatment – the ‘2007 Rehabilitation Code’. The code states that its aim is to ‘promote the use of rehabilitation and early intervention in the compensation process so that the injured person makes the best and quickest possible medical, social and psychological recovery’.
The code emphasises a collaborative approach. Each side is encouraged to consider whether the claimant would benefit from rehabilitation, and if so, an assessment of his or her immediate needs can be arranged by the parties, to be carried out by an agreed rehabilitation expert and paid for by the compensator.
After conducting the assessment, the expert will prepare a report dealing with the claimant’s injuries, identifying whether early intervention or rehabilitation would be beneficial and detailing the type and cost of any recommendations. The report is not to be used as part of the litigation process. The parties then liaise on receipt of the report and, if recommendations are made, attempt to agree funding for those recommendations, normally paid for by the compensator.
The practical benefits of early rehabilitative intervention are plain to see; we have had many instances where immediate needs assessments have resulted in the recommendation, implementation and funding of early rehabilitative treatment. Examples include surgery, physiotherapy, counselling, occupational therapy and speech therapy. It can also involve examining whether the claimant has an immediate need for aids and equipment to improve his or her quality of life, or even adaptations to the home to facilitate daily living. In addition, adjustments to a claimant’s existing job can be considered to expedite or ease their return to work, or ways in which the claimant can be assisted to obtain or retrain for alternative employment.
The code therefore reminds us all, on whichever side of the fence we are sitting, to keep our sights fixed from an early stage on the means by which the injured party’s physical and mental well-being, quality of life and ability to work can be restored as soon as possible.