Paul Walton – head of Professional Negligence – discusses the topical issue of legal claims against solicitors

There has been a growing number of claims against solicitors relating to the mishandling of Personal Injury claims for their clients. The most common problems are:

1.    Failure to issue proceedings in time. For a Personal Injury claim the normal Limitation Period is three years from the date of the accident or injury. Proceedings must be commenced in the Court before the three year period has expired otherwise the claim can be lost.

Solicitors normally expect that the Insurance Company handling will make an offer and settle before the three year time limit expires. If solicitors do not have a careful diary system, they can fail to note the danger of allowing the last date to pass without the necessary action being taken to protect the interests of the clients.

Sometimes, and sadly, it is the case that solicitors will allow claims to be handled for clients by unqualified staff who are not sufficiently supervised. Unqualified staff cannot generally be expected to know the legal principles. It is the solicitor who should know those and ensure that the client’s interests are protected.

2.    Under-settlement of a Personal Injury claim. If the solicitor does not ensure that all necessary medical evidence is obtained then the client’s claim risks being settled at too low a figure and the client does not recover the full amount of damages to which he or she should be entitled.

If a client has physical injuries, the solicitor would normally obtain a report from an orthopaedic consultant but he may fail to realise that the client has broader symptoms and evidence may be required from a neurologist. Possibly also the client has psychiatric symptoms and a report would be needed from a psychiatrist or psychologist.

Solicitors can also fail to realise that medical reports, even when obtained, may not of themselves be conclusive. If the reports indicate that the client should be re-examined and re-assessed at a later date, failure to do so may result in the solicitor advising the client to settle his or her claim at a significant under-value.

3.    Failure to include all items of claim. It is surprising how often a case will come before me where the solicitor has simply overlooked obtaining adequate information from the client about absences from work, loss of property, the need for care and assistance during recovery (for which there can be compensation even when that care assistance is provided by members of the family). Failure to obtain information as to these claims and then the necessary documentary evidence can result in the client being substantially out-of-pocket.

4.    Failure to assess all types of claim. For example, if a client is bitten by a dog he might have a claim against the owner of the dog for the injuries sustained. But if that dog is a police dog and the injury is sustained as part of a wrongful arrest, then the client has an additional claim for wrongful arrest and false imprisonment that would attract broader damages.

There are many other ways in which a solicitor can mishandle a Personal Injury claim for a client.

If a former client of a solicitor believes that his or her claim has been mishandled he or she should consult another solicitor as to the possibility of bringing a professional negligence claim against his or her former Solicitor.

It is interesting to note that the Limitation Period for a Personal Injury claim is normally three years from the date of the accident/injury. But the Limitation Period for a Professional Negligence claim against the handling Solicitor is six years, normally from the date of the settlement or failure of the claim.

For more information about Paul and his work, please click HERE.

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