Janet (not her real name) is 15. Back in 2010, she was hit by a 4 x 4 and suffered catastrophic injuries. The facts are fairly straightforward. She was crossing a busy single carriageway between a line of cars that was stopped at traffic lights. The 4 x 4 became impatient with the line of traffic and suddenly pulled out to overtake them. He struck Janet at about 25 mph.
She was not expected to survive the accident. She was in a coma for 3 weeks and was in hospital for almost 2 months. She has been left with permanent physical disabilities and has a serious brain injury.
My colleague Mike Sexton was instructed via her father’s Trade Union. A letter of claim led to a robust denial of liability on the basis that she was the author of her own misfortune for not keeping a proper look out. Despite this, Mike persuaded the insurers to work with the Claimant through the rehabilitation code. Funding was provided in 2011 but when learning about a possible cost of £50,000 for 2012 they unilaterally advised the rehab providers that no further funding would be provided.
At about the same time the insurers offered £125,000 in full and final settlement of the claim. Her injuries merit an award that could exceed £2m. The offer was stated to be on the table for 14 days after which it would be withdrawn. The family accepted Mike’s advice to reject. Early in 2012 the offer was increased to £250,000 with the same time pressure to accept. The family accepted Mike’s advice to reject this; and court proceedings were issued. By the end of 2012 the offer was increased to £750,000 and there was also an offer to pay 75% of any amount she might recover at trial. This time the family were given 21 days to accept. The family again accepted Mike’s advice and rejected both offers.
So the matter arrived at Trial early in June 2013. At the door of the court, the Defendants’ QC offered to settle on the basis of 82.5% of the claim. This was a huge increase from the initial offer but would still have wiped out several hundred thousand pounds from her damages. Following advice the family rejected the offer and the trial went ahead. The judge found 100% in her favour. The insurers were ordered to make an immediate interim payment to her parents to cover their expense to date. The case was then adjourned for full reports on quantum to be prepared.
This was obviously an important case to win. But it also demonstrates the lengths that insurers will go to in order to avoid payment altogether or to intimidate victims and their families to accept less than their entitlement. They were effectively dragged kicking and screaming all the way to trial.
This should all be seen against the constant rhetoric that lawyers are not needed in injury claims. If the family had accepted the first offer Janet would have got less that 5% of the value of her claim; a claim which she eventually won in full. Without robust legal advice the outcome might have been very different. If the insurance industry and the government get their way it is likely that hundreds of victims will be denied justice.