Lessons from a month in personal injury

Nathan Weich, Trainee in the Russell-Cooke Solicitors, restructuring and insolvency team.
Nathan Weich
3 min Read

Now that I'm (almost) a month into my training contract, it feels like it's the right time to take a moment to reflect on everything that I've learned from a jam-packed few weeks.

As a trainee in the personal injury and clinical negligence team, I've learned that, yes, there is actually such a thing as a 'waterslide expert' (and their evidence can make or break a case); that clinical negligence claims can take years and years to get to a hearing, if they ever do; and that you should never, under any circumstances, Google surgical procedures straight after lunch.

The one thing that has really stood out to me, however, is the passion that this team has for the work that they do and for getting the best result for their clients. It's why I can feel and share in their outrage when they discuss the occasions where the law fails to fulfil its obligations to victims of negligence.

By way of an example, I was particularly shocked when discussing with my new colleagues the nature of claims for family members who have been bereaved as a result of negligence.

Losing a loved one is the worst thing that can happen to someone, and no amount of money could ever fill the hole created by the loss. Nevertheless, an award of financial compensation can go some way to acknowledging the negligence and the injustice the family have suffered.

Certain family members of the deceased can make a claim on behalf of the estate for the suffering and loss caused to the deceased prior to their death, and they can also make a claim as dependants for the loss of a financial dependency, for a standard 'bereavement award' of £15,120 and for reasonable funeral expenses.

If the dependant can’t establish that there has been a loss of financial dependency, then the bereavement award represents the bulk of the sum they are likely to receive. To make matters worse, this paltry sum is only available to an even narrower class of claimants. Traditionally, to be eligible you had to have been the spouse or civil partner of the deceased, the parents of a legitimate unmarried deceased minor, or the mother of an illegitimate unmarried deceased minor.

It's clear, even to a first-seat trainee, that the law in this respect suffers from a lack of imagination when it comes to considering the whole range of claims that ought to be compensated in the event of an individual’s death.

Take, for instance, the death of a child caused by another's negligence. Since there won't have been a loss of dependence, the parents of that child are entitled only to the bereavement award. If that child is over 18 then they lose even that meagre entitlement.

The statute was recently amended to allow unmarried partners and cohabitees to claim the bereavement award. Their entitlement is, however, subject to the condition that they had to have lived with the deceased for at least two years prior to their death, which seems an archaic and exclusionary ruling on what constitutes a durable relationship.

Another egregious failure of this law is its treatment of elderly people who die as a result of negligence without leaving behind a partner who meets the qualifying criteria above. Elderly widows and widowers would fall into this category. In such cases, their distraught relatives will receive no award beyond their funeral expenses.

This is just one small aspect of a fascinating and divisive area of law. The Association for Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) have lobbied the Government extensively on this topic, and their publications are essential reading, as is this article by Lucy Wilton.

As you might be able to tell from the above, the passion of the team for their area of law really is contagious, and I can’t wait to see what the rest of this seat has in store.

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