Picture this scene…
You’re driving along, down a reasonably busy road with the radio playing and a smile on your face. Your calm, alert and in complete control of your vehicle, with your eyes darting from one potential hazard to the next. The little boy across the street kicks his ball into the road? No need to swerve, you’ve noticed it in plenty of time. An oncoming car swings wide to overtake a parked vehicle? No problem, all you need is the mildest of taps on the brake.
Suddenly the unthinkable happens! Another car careens around the corner and collides with your tailgate with an earsplitting bang.
After a moment’s confusion you feel a sharp twinge of pain.
You’ve been injured… Now how do you proceed?
It’s a situation that we all do our best to avoid, but however many years’ driving experience we have under our belts any one of us is only someone else’s miscalculated turn away from needing to submit a personal injury claim. While we may hope that we never have to, when the situation arises, it’s important to know how to do it right.
At the accident scene
Depending on the extent and severity of your injuries, your ability to act decisively and effectively may be compromised but if you can, it’s important to try and keep your head. Even if your injury is relatively minor, the psychological trauma of the collision may have you acting erratically or out of character. Anger, fear and shock could compromise your claim at this early stage and it’s important that your behaviour is unimpeachable.
If you stumble out of your car gushing apologies then this can seriously undermine your claim, as can launching a tirade of threats and obscenities at the responsible driver (however tempting this may be). The most important thing is to avoid admissions or declarations against interest.
Declarations against interest
These are statements of admissions made outside of the parameters of the claim and subsequent investigation that fall into the legally thorny issue of hearsay evidence. If you have a dashcam mounted in your vehicle then this will be extremely helpful but if not you cans till protect yourself and the legitimacy of your claim by avoiding the following commonly uttered statements at this time;
- “I’m sorry. I didn’t see you.”
- “I was texting,” / “I was on my phone” This could have severe legal consequences for you!
- “I was talking with my passenger.”
- “My tires are worn. I’ve been meaning to have them replaced.”
- “I just looked down for a moment to change the radio station.”
- “I’m okay,” or “I don’t need an ambulance.”
This will mitigate the damage that you could inadvertently do to your claim in the confusion of the moment and avoid any unintentional admission of responsibility.
Choosing a personal injury lawyer
After you’ve exchanged information with the responsible party and sought medical attention for your injuries then it’s time to start your claim. But finding the right personal injury lawyer for you can be daunting, especially when there are so many to choose from.
You need a skilled negotiator on your side who will get you as great a compensatory award as possible without demanding an upfront fee. Despite recent legislative changes to the handling of personal injury claims, PI law is a big business with lots of healthy competition so you can afford to be choosy. As with hiring any expert, you need to do your homework, but it’s difficult to know what to look for if you’re unfamiliar with how PI law works.
Your bare minimum expectations for a personal injury lawyer should be:
- A ‘no-win, no-fee’ approach.
- A free consultation.
- A strong winning record.
- A good professional reputation with no complaints filed or disciplinary record.
- You should receive 100% of the compensation.
We recommend you check out Quittance Solicitors as a good example of the kind of practice you should be looking for. They should have a history of successful case studies which should be made accessible to you in person or via their website.
They should be open and honest with you from the start as to what sort of award you can expect (prior to investigation of the circumstances), and how long the claim can be expected to take.
Dealing with the claims adjuster
Whomever you choose to represent you in your claim, there’s a good chance that you will have to deal with the responsible party’s claims adjuster / loss adjuster. These are the people who will use whatever means they can to minimise the settlement payout. Your claim can be compromised with even the slightest lapse in presence of mind.
For example, if the claims adjuster greets you with “how are you?” our social reflex is to say something along the lines of “I’m fine, how are you?”. But even this casual admission of “I’m fine” could cause inadvertent damage to your claim.
When dealing with the claims adjuster, here are some helpful reminders that will ensure the strength and integrity of your claim:
- Don’t be too friendly. By all means be polite but go in with a firm hand. Go in with a reserved, business-like demeanour and let them know that you are not to be trifled with.
- Don’t agree to a recorded statement. You should not do this without your solicitor present or at least without consulting them first. Your statement defines the parameters upon which your claim rests, so it needs to be absolutely bullet-proof.
- Be on your guard at all times. The adjuster will be trained to lull you into a false sense of security by being friendly and engaging and appearing to act in your interests. Don’t fall for it! Be guarded and consider everything you say before opening your mouth.
- Keep it factual. Don’t editorialise or offer opinions. Limit everything you say to matters of undeniable fact.
- Be honest. Lying is the fastest way to torpedo your claim. A lie, however small, will be caught out by the claims adjuster and damage your credibility beyond your solicitor’s capability to repair.
- Avoid disclosing any personal information. They may find some way to use this against you.
- Avoid mentioning any existing injuries. It can really harm your claim if you mention any prior injuries, especially if you have not yet liaised with a medical professional. The adjuster may try to downplay your new injury as an exacerbation of a previous one.
- Avoid the term ‘whiplash’. It’s a huge red flag for claims adjusters and they will react to it with the aggression and tenacity of an angry bull. Unless you’ve been legitimately diagnosed with this condition you should avoid invoking it.
- Don’t exaggerate. As you can imagine, claims adjusters hear all manner of tall tales and not only are they just itching for an excuse to lump you in with the deceivers, they’re also experienced in ferreting out exaggerations. Trust in the legitimacy of your claim and it should speak for itself.
- Remember, you don’t have to answer every question. If you don’t know the answer to a question then you are perfectly within your rights to admit that you don’t know or can’t remember. Answering a question that you’re unsure of under duress can lead you to become nervous which may result in an exaggeration, half-truth or fabrication, all of which could seriously undermine your claim. Don’t be afraid to defer answering the question until you have taken the time to find the answer and ensure that you continue to negotiate from a position of strength.