The Limitation Act 1980 is the UK statute which allows a claimant to make a claim for personal injury. For a one off incident the standard timescale is that you must present your claim to a Court within a 3 year period of an accident. Some claims vary with a shorter limitation period- such as an accident on a boat must be presented to the court within 2 years and others such as a disease claim you may have 3 years from the date of knowledge that this disease was caused by working condition etc. but when is the best time to make a claim?
Time is off the essence in proving claims and making the claims process more straightforward for the claimant. The onus is on the claimant to prove their claim, to prove the negligent act, that the negligent act caused an injury and that the subsequent losses and damages should be compensated.
Thus preserving contemporaneous evidence is time-sensitive- for example a vehicle that is damaged may only need minor repairs which can wait however a claim should be presented at the earliest position to ensure that the collision damage is accurately recorded before any other intervening act can take place- such as a second accident or a scratches not caused in the accident but caused in the local supermarket carpark. Indeed in the world of RTA claims where it is commonly alleged by Defendant insurers that fraud is rife- if a claim is not presented early then the insurers frequently allege that “late notification of a claim “ is more likely to be suggestive than an injury was not caused by the collision and that this is a fraudulent claim. This guilty until proven innocent attitude adopted by the insurers can prolong claims that if presented earlier could be efficiently dealt with. In addition eye witnesses at the scene if not secured early tend not to be not willing to assist later in the claims process as their recollection is more hazy the more time has passed.
In accidents in the workplace or public places contemporaneous notification to the defendant of an accident is invaluable in maintaining evidence such as CCTV. CCTV is frequently only maintained on an average for 30 days before it is then cleared and reused and thus if a Defendant is not notified within 30 days of an incident then valuable CCTV footage can be destroyed for ever. In addition in situations where accident books are not made available to the claimant, in a world where lives are so busy it is very easy to get the accident date incorrect if not notified very soon post-accident. If a claimant presents a claim to the Court where they cannot be certain of the accident date then they are facing an uphill battle to persuade the Court that their version of events is correct when the date is wrong. CCTV footage of the wrong accident date hinders the claimant. An insurer may have kept CCTV of the alleged date but if the alleged date is wrong then they won’t have kept CCTV footage for the day’s pre and post what you say was the accident date. In the world of zero-hours contracts and employees frequently moving jobs then the supportive eye witness to an unsafe system of work could be lost to the claimant is not secured early on.
Photos of potholes and critically measurements with a ruler taken on the date of the accident can overcome an insurer’s allegation that they are maintaining the highway. Photographs of foliage overgrowing signage in spring as well as summer months for example may assist to defeat a denial if liability. In the world of camera phones the claimant without photo and/or video footage of accident/ accident locations will face an uphill battle to overcome a denial.
Companies can go into liquidation also over time- particularly relevant as a result of the COVID19 pandemic and the later the claim is presented the more of a risk there is that the company who were negligent may have ceased trading or allowed their insurance to lapse so there is inadequate insurance cover.
Off course it is not always the right time for someone to make a personal injury claim within a short period of time due to the severity of their injury, personal issues or issues with a difficult employer may man that you do not submit a claim until you have moved jobs for example. This is not a bar to bringing a claim, but the securing of evidence and maintenance of such evidence is key. Ensure if you have footage saved on a mobile phone that it is also saved to a computer, if you cannot get to a NHS practitioner (again highly unlikely to secure an appointment as a result of the COVID 19 pandemic) take photographs of your injuries within days of the accident as there will be a record of the date from the phones metadata. If possible ring 111 for advice so there is a log of the injury and accident circumstance in your GP records.
In serious injury claims we frequently recommend claimants and their families make videos of activities struggled with post-accident or keep diaries such as a “Day in the Life” to have a valuable record of how the injuries were and have progressed from day 1, day 28, day 180 etc. As is human nature when someone is out of the eye of the storm injury-wise, most claimant‘s forget how bad it was at a certain point and thus when they report the impact of an accident perhaps 1-2 years post-accident to a medico-legal doctor they have forgotten a lot of the impact of the injury in the early months.
Getting copies of bank statements to show how you paid for entering a marathon that you could not then participate in is much easier to locate within 12 months of the accident rather than trying to recall how you paid for something 3 years later. A recent claimant suddenly found the cheque stub to show how they paid their employer for the marathon place- thus explaining why there was no record in their bank statements to the organiser but instead a charitable donation via the Employer.
Finally be advised that most solicitors will not be willing to take a claim on a “no win no fee” basis if the claim is too close to the third anniversary. Depending on the complexity of the issue, 6-12 months is the minimum required to competently investigate and evidence a claim and if a claimant leaves it to close to the third anniversary a Solicitor is likely to confirm that on the balance of probabilities you are less likely to prove your claim due to a loss of contemporaneous evidence as outlined above which may have not been retained.