How Has Coronavirus Affected Personal Injury Cases?
There isn’t an area of the legal profession that has not been affected by the global coronavirus pandemic. Whilst swathes of lawyers up and down the country are dusting down their desks and furiously googling ‘what is a frontal adverbial?’, the Civil Courts are trying their best to provide a service that keeps the flow of cases going, but accounting for the current Government guidelines largely through the increased use of telephone and video hearings. A good friend and a DDJ (Deputy District Judge) though remarked to me this week that there’s no sitting at all for part timers as all possession claims, fast track trials and family proceedings have been adjourned. So just like everyone, it is not necessarily business as usual.
The Judiciary have hastily produced a protocol on the use of video and can be found here: https://www.judiciary.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Remote-hearings.Protocol.Civil_.GenerallyApplicableVersion.f-amend-26_03_20-1-1.pdf
But more day to day issues for practitioners are the practicalities, such as how do I serve a witness statement from someone being shielded and who hasn’t signed it? Or how am I going to get my client examined by a medical expert when I need to issue and serve proceedings? These are not easily solved, although there has been significant efforts on both sides of the fence to be more collaborative and a healthy sense of pragmatism seems to have come to the fore. Hurrah! Within no time at all, the ABI and leading Claimant firms had agreed a new protocol that agreed to freeze all limitation dates in all personal injury cases for a minimum of 4 weeks with a review in the week commencing 13th April. Maybe the overriding objective is suddenly back in vogue.
It is certainly my experience that the majority of practitioners are only too happy to retain that pragmatism and agree extensions, and these should be factored in as early as possible where you think there might be an issue. Recently, a Master in the High Court allowed the parties in a brain injury case to agree extensions up to 56 days (although to my knowledge this has not yet been formalised). I have relied upon this in some draft directions that I have recently filed. Medco have temporarily lifted heir ban on conducting medical appointments by video link up so portal cases should run smoother because of this. A word of warning however; A number of appointments with my clients have been cancelled because the doctor either no longer has the space, or has temporarily stopped all examinations, to allow them more time on the front line. Request for medical records are also understandably being put on the back burner and there is no easy solution to this. If extensions to serve Particulars of Claim and supporting evidence are necessary, then these can always be agreed with the Defendant, or an application made under CPR 7.6.
Of course it is likely that Claimants will become more desperate for a settlement: Unscrupulous lawyers may see an opportunity to settle cases early to ease cash flow, but this has always opened up firms to negligence claims. Interim payments of damages and if appropriate costs become even more important in these uncertain times.
Now back to those fronted adverbials…
Tim Ransley is an associate solicitor within our Personal Injury department. If you would like to discuss your options, our Personal Injury Team are here to guide you through the various routes available – Simply call the team on 01903 229999, visit the team page to contact the relevant department or complete the form below.