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The outbreak of Covid-19 has affected nearly all aspects of day-to-day life. Here we look at how it has affected litigation and in particular the process in personal injury claims.

Naturally the pandemic has affected the progress of claims, with courts closing, evidence gathering stalling, and rehabilitation curtailed. Solicitors have had to adapt and embrace new technologies which we hope will provide for the possibility of an ever-more efficient, more transparent and more consistent claims handling framework across the UK.

coronavirus effecting personal injury claims

Communication between both parties

What will be affected is how the claim is run.

Solicitors and insurers on both sides have adapted to flexible working with many working from home so that claims can continue to be run as smoothly and efficiently as possible.

Communication is mainly via telephone or email. The handling of documents is now largely being carried out electronically. On the whole, these methods of communication will speed things up for those that are technologically minded.

Solicitors have had to embrace new technology’s quickly and incorporate them in the day to day running of their practice.

Liability Investigations

The first stage in a personal injury claim is to establish liability; who was at fault.

In most cases, investigations into liability should not be affected. However, there will be cases where businesses have shut down or are temporarily closed due to restrictions, and investigations may take longer than normal. For example, it may not be possible to gain access to buildings or documents for inspection. There will be compliance challenges with deadlines, where businesses are closed and unable to provide timely or adequate disclosure, witnesses are unavailable through poor health, and experts are unable to examine.

Medical Examination and Rehabilitation

Once liability has been established the next step is to obtain medical evidence in order to establish what injuries have been caused by the accident.

This normally involves an examination in person by an independent Medico-legal expert who will then prepare a report in the case. Social distancing measures and prioritising delivery of healthcare over medico-legal work, has understandably resulted in the cancellation of medico-legal appointments.

Before coronavirus most examinations were held at the experts’ premises. There has always been a ban on Medico-legal examinations being held by remote video link. However due to government restrictions prohibiting face-to-face examinations this ban has been lifted and, in many cases, examinations are going ahead via video link.

In serious injury cases experts may have to review smartphone footage of the Claimant undertaking pre-specified exercises or relevant daily activities. Of course, video-link examinations will not be appropriate in all cases, so appointments are being delayed until the restrictions are lifted sufficiently for a face-to-face examination to go ahead. A physical examination at a later date may still be required. Cancellations and postponements will inevitably impact upon the life cycle of many cases.

Depending on the client’s injuries, medical experts can recommend treatment such as physiotherapy or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). Prior to Covid-19 these took place on a face-to-face basis. Therapist have had to adapt their practices and offer assessments and treatment via video link. Practitioners’ would agree that this is not ideal in the case of physiotherapy but often some treatment is better than not at all. In reality an assessment will be made via video link and an exercise regime will be provided for patients to do at home.

Care and Assistance

It is our experience that in times like these the responsibility for the Claimant’s day to day needs are likely to fall on their family, the cost of which are significantly less than professional care.

Another consideration is that social distancing may impede rehabilitation in serious injury cases. The quarantine measures and infection risks could trigger further psychological harm in claimants already dealing with the mental health consequences of a traumatic accident.

Financial Implications

We understand that some clients may also be struggling financially, whether this is because they have been furloughed or laid off, or because of the injures they sustained in the accident.

It is possible to request an interim payment from the Defendant to help relieve this stress. This has always been the case but is something claimants should consider more now if necessary.

With the pandemic came an economic downturn which in some cases may have affected the sector in which the claimant was working, wanted to work in or was hoping to work in. If their job has come to an end or is not available anymore due to the crisis, they would have lost earnings even if the accident had never happened. This could affect the recoverable loss both past and future.

The Court Process

For many personal injury claims the involvement of the court is inevitable.

The Covid-19 pandemic has had significant implications for the court system in England and Wales. Following the implementation of social distancing measures, technology has enabled a number of remote hearings to take place, however an ever-increasing backlog of cases was inevitable. Furthermore, there is some local variations; some courts are conducting all hearings by audio or video whilst others are only adopting this approach for interim hearings.

It is an ever-changing situation and the Courts have to continue to adapt their processes to ensure delivery. Technology will continue to play an important role to ensure cases can be heard in a timely manner.

If you or a loved one have had the misfortune of being involved in an accident and would like some assistance or would like to speak with one of our specialist personal injury solicitors contact us on 0161 399 1231.

Emma Pearce, Solicitor

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