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When should I instruct a solicitor after having an accident?

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Common ways to fund a personal injury claim

In the courts in England and Wales, you usually have a period of three years from the date of an accident to either have settled your claim or, if your case is not ready to be settled, for court proceedings to be started against the defendant who caused the accident. The three year cut off point is called the “limitation date”. If you haven’t settled your case by this date, or you/the solicitor acting on your behalf has not issued court proceedings against your opponent by this date, then your case will become what is known as “statute barred”. This means you lose the right to pursue a claim for compensation against the defendant any further.

In some cases, this time limit is actually shorter than three years. For example, if you are making a claim for criminal injuries, or if you have had an accident whilst travelling on a boat or a plane, a two year limitation period applies.

If you are claiming for an illness which has developed over time, such as an industrial disease, and there is not a specific accident date for the time period to start running from, then the time may start running from the first time that you associated your symptoms to the defendant’s breach of duty, e.g. your working conditions.  This is called the “date of knowledge”. 

If you are a child under 18 years of age or a person who does not have capacity to deal with their own legal or financial affairs – sometimes called a “protected party” - then the limitation date is also different. In a child’s case, they have three years from the date that they turn 18 in which to bring the claim. The limitation period will not run if you are a protected party, unless you regain mental capacity at any point in which case it will start to run.

When should you instruct your solicitor?

It is advisable to proceed with an injury claim as early as possible after the incident when your recollection of events is clear and you have key details about how the accident occurred, the date and time it occurred, where it happened etc. You may also need to take down witness details so that your solicitor can contact them for you and the sooner they are spoken to the better.

In the case of a tripping accident in the street or in a privately owned area, if photographs and measurements of what caused you to trip or fall are not taken either at the time of the accident, or in the days immediately after the accident, it could be very difficult to pursue a claim as the defect may have been repaired and, even if it remains, its condition will not be the same many months later as it was at the time of your accident. It is a good idea to ask that the accident is recorded if it happened at work or in a public place, like a shop or restaurant. You should ask for a copy of the accident report, or at least make sure that you read this and check it is correct before you are asked to sign it.

It is always very useful to take good photographs of your injuries, both at the time that it happens and then as your injuries progress. This is particularly important in a case where you might be left with scarring after the injury. If there is CCTV footage available showing the accident, you should try to obtain a copy of this.

Another potential problem in delaying bringing a claim is that if it is against your employer or a business, they may get into financial difficulty, and go into administration or liquidation. If that happens, whilst you may still make a claim against them, the process is far more difficult and costly. It can also result in limited recovery in terms of compensation.

It is therefore advisable to instruct a solicitor as soon as possible after an accident. The earlier you seek professional legal advice then the more time there is to gather the evidence necessary to prove your claim. Contact our specialist personal injury solicitors on 0161 696 6235 or complete our online enquiry form.

By Sharon Edwards, paralegal