Spinal cord injury claims process explained

Janice Gardner, Partner in the Russell-Cooke Solicitors, personal injury and medical negligence team. Russell-Cooke Solicitors staff photograph. Silhouette of a female team member against the backdrop of an office window with a soft focus effect.
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5 min Read
Janice Gardner, Russell-Cooke Team

The legal process for making a claim for a spinal cord injury (SCI) can be daunting and confusing. Every case is unique but here we answer some of the more common questions and concerns that those impacted by SCI have.

How long do I have to make a spinal injury claim?

The standard answer is three years from the date you suffered your injury, but there can be exceptions to that depending on your circumstances. For instance: two years if your injury happened outside the UK or as a result of criminal assault in the UK, or three years from the date of your 18th birthday if you are under 18.

If you think you may have a reason to claim damages, or even if you are unsure, do not delay in getting in touch with solicitors. The earlier you get in touch, the better it will be for you and your rehabilitation if there is a claim to be pursued. We will advise you clearly and realistically from the start.

How long will my injury claim take?

You should be prepared for your damages case to go on for two years at least and possibly longer than that depending on the circumstances.

Why does a spinal injury claim take so long?

The civil compensation system is an ‘adversarial’ process – which means that each party is entitled to a legal representative to argue any particular point. If those points are not capable of agreement by negotiation, the parties have the right to go to Court and ask a Judge to decide. This means that cases can take a long time to resolve. Especially those which involve considerable disagreement about how the incident happened or whether, and the extent to which, someone should be compensated for certain injuries or losses claimed.

Even in a relatively straightforward case where there are few arguments between the parties, the length of a spinal injury claim will be dictated by your own personal recovery. Protecting your future needs for care, equipment, accommodation and finances, is crucial. Often a final medical prognosis for your injuries cannot be safely provided for 18 months or two years. If a safe prognosis for the future cannot be provided, then all good lawyers will recommend that no settlement is attempted unless there are very good reasons why it may be in your best interests.

You should be prepared then for the case, and lawyers, to be part of your life for a significant amount of time. It is therefore of vital importance that the lawyers representing you are sensitive to that fact and do all they can to provide a buffer between you and the process by way of straightforward legal and practical advice and a relationship of trust and confidence.  

How much compensation will I receive?

Any solicitor who attempts to answer that question without knowing who you are as an individual, what injuries you have sustained, what the medical prognosis is and what overall effect the injuries have had and will have on your life in the future, is not the lawyer for you.

The two main compensation categories

The compensation you receive is split into two main categories, the second of which is broken down into two parts:

1. General damages 

This is the part of the award that is designed to compensate you for your “Pain, Suffering and Loss of Amenity”. This is not ever truly possible of course, but the Courts have to try. The result is essentially a tariff-based system, backed by a history of decided cases involving similar injuries and situations.

It is recognised that the awards available to people who have suffered the most severe injury cannot possibly begin to provide financial security for the rest of their lives. It is not designed to do so (see below: Future losses) and the highest possible award for a spinal cord injury in 2022 was £403,990. 

2. Special damages

This is the term used to describe financial losses, both:

  • Past losses; and
  • Future losses

The same categories are considered in both sub-categories and will include, among other things:

  • Cost of special accommodation – i.e. the increased capital and running expenses of needing a larger or adapted property because of your injuries
  • Paid support, such as physical care, home support or personal assistance
  • Medical therapies
  • Equipment
  • Transportation
  • Increased holiday costs
  • Loss of earnings

The ‘past’ losses are called that because the amount of loss crystallises at the point the damages case ends, either by negotiation or at a Court hearing. The totals of those expenses are simply added up to that point in time.

The ‘future’ losses in serious injury cases are usually the largest part of the claim. The award is calculated using an approach that considers how much you need per year to live optimally across all of the above categories. The annual amount is calculated with reference to your expected lifetime (which is worked out either statistically or with reference to medical experts where your life expectancy is compromised). There are complex calculations involved in this process but in very general terms, the damages award is supposed to make sure you have those annual costs for the rest of your life. As such, you can understand why some cases with high costs and long life expectancy result in very high damages awards into the many millions of pounds.

Most awards are made on a ‘full and final basis’ meaning you cannot re-open a case if it later transpires that your condition or the consequences of it are worse than imagined, and you need more compensation. It is possible in some cases to protect you against this by taking an award on a ‘provisional’ basis, meaning that if you suffer a serious deterioration in the future you can come back to the Court to seek further damages.

You do not have to take the final award on an entirely ‘lump sum’ basis and many claims for certain future losses are provided annually for the rest of your life. If that is something that may be in your best interests your solicitor will arrange for an Independent Financial Advisor to provide an opinion by way of guidance.

How do I pay the legal fees?

Our legal services in most, if not all, spinal cord injuries will be provided under a No Win, No Fee agreement. This is exactly what it says it is: if we are not successful in securing you a damages award, we will not charge you anything.

It is important that the agreement is discussed in person so that you can be completely comfortable that you understand exactly how it works and are happy to proceed before any document is signed.

Please call us on +44 (0)20 3826 7517 so we can guide you through everything you need to know at this stage, from legal funding, whether we are the right legal team for you, and what happens next.

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