This is one of the two questions that almost every new client will ask, the other being ‘how long will it take to settle my claim’?
Of course, this is a very good question. How do you turn your misfortune into pounds and pence? Well, in fact your claim will usually comprise not one, but often several individual heads of claim.
The starting point is damages for your injuries. Lawyers refer to these as damages for ‘pain, suffering and loss of amenity’ or PSLA. As the accident victim you will know what ‘pain and suffering’ is. The ‘loss of amenity’ refers to the actual limitations that the injury places on your life. If you like, this is the subjective bit, as we all lead different lifestyles – what effect do these injuries have on this person?
Before a value can be placed upon a claim for PSLA, it is vital that there is a clear settled prognosis for your injury or injuries. This means that either a full recovery will already have been achieved, or if you have not fully recovered, you are as certain as possible what the future progress or otherwise of your medical condition will be. This is vital as once the claim has settled, it cannot be reopened. If you have suffered more than one type of injury, you may need to be assessed by more than one type of specialist. For example, an orthopaedic specialist cannot give an expert opinion on neurological or psychological issues and separate reports will be required. It will be negligent for a solicitor to advise or encourage you to settle your claim if there is any uncertainty about the future.
When it comes to valuation, the Judges publish a set of guidelines – ‘The Judicial Studies Board Guidelines’ – which give a broad range of damages for different types of injury. In order to advise you properly on the valuation of your claim for PSLA, your solicitor will be able to provide you with details of similar cases which have been before the Courts recently and where judges have assessed their value.
As a result of your injury you will usually have incurred expenditure or be otherwise out of pocket. Common examples may be lost earnings (employed or self-employed), the purchase of medication, the cost treatment and the cost of care. You may also be able to claim for the time that family and friends have spent in helping you as a result of your incapacity.
All of these are usually described by lawyers as ‘special damages’. All that means is out of pocket expenditure incurred to date. However, what about losses that may be incurred in the future?
Whether and to what extent you may be entitled to claim future losses will largely depend upon the medical evidence. If your ability to work or care for yourself will be affected, you may have a claim for future lost earnings and future care costs. Will you require treatment in the future? Even if you can return to your old employment, would you be at a disadvantage in the employment market if you were to lose your job in the future? These are all questions that your solicitor should address with you and the medical experts in order to ascertain whether and to what extent you may have claims for future loss. In some cases your solicitor will require the assistance of other types of expert in order to value your claim for future loss. Common examples are forensic accountants to calculate claims for the self-employed, nursing or occupational therapy experts to assess the extent of future care requirements and employment experts to advise on future employment and retraining options.
Clearly, you will see that your solicitor cannot accurately advise you on the valuation of your claim at the outset. However, the process of assessing which heads of claim you may have and gathering the evidence to support them, does start from day one and continues as the claim progresses.