A personal injury can be:
- a physical injury, disease or illness, or
- a psychological injury or illness.
A personal injury could result in death.
Examples of personal injuries are:
- an injury at work. This includes work-related illnesses such as a disease caused by working with asbestos
- a psychological illness caused by stress at work
- an injury caused in a traffic accident
- an injury received as a result of faulty goods or services
- an injury caused if you trip over paving stones
- a psychological illness suffered as a result of abuse as a child
- an injury caused by errors in hospital treatment or by vaccinations
- a physical or psychological injury sustained by a victim in the course of a crime
- a psychological illness caused by discrimination or harassment in your work-place.
If you have suffered a personal injury, or if you are acting on behalf of someone who has died because of a personal injury, you may want to consider the following:
- do you want to make a complaint to the person or organisation you believe was responsible for the injuries (see under heading Making a complaint)
- do you want to make a claim for compensation to cover losses you have suffered as a result of the injury (see under heading Compensation)
- are there any immediate financial problems arising because of the injury, for example, you are unable to work (see under heading Financial problems)
- do you want to contact an organisation that could offer support or counselling (see under heading Support and counselling).
Action to be taken
Whatever you are intending to do about your personal injury, actions you could take include:-
- inform the police if, for example, the injury resulted from a road accident
- if the injury resulted from a road accident, report it to your insurance company. The insurance policy may be invalid if an accident is not reported
- report the injury to your doctor because it could become more serious. You should do this even if the injury seems minor. If you subsequently go to court to get compensation for the injury, the doctor will be asked to provide a medical report
- gather evidence about the accident and injuries. For example, it may be useful to take photographs of the scene of an accident and of what caused the injury. You should also, if possible, write an account of the incident while details are still fresh in your mind. If there are witnesses, you should make a note of their names and addresses.
Accidents at work
If the accident happened at work, it should be recorded in an accident book. If your workplace does not have an accident book, you should write out brief details of the accident and injuries, send them to your employer and keep a copy. Your contract may say that you have to report an injury at work to your employer. If you are self-employed, you have a legal responsibility to report some accidents resulting in injury to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) or to the local authority environmental health department. In England and Wales, there is more information about reporting accidents to the HSE on its website at www.hse.gov.uk.
If you have had an accident or suffered an injury you might be able to get an explanation of what went wrong and to receive an apology. In some cases, there may be an official complaints procedure you can use.
One disadvantage of using complaints procedures is that they are often time consuming and the final result will be no more than an apology. If you have suffered a personal injury and you also want compensation, you should be aware that there are time limits for taking legal action (see under heading Taking legal action) and going through a complaints procedure may delay matters.
If you decide that making a complaint will provide a sufficient remedy, here are some examples of the organisations you can complain to:
- a government department
- a local authority
- your employer
- the police
- your school or other educational institution
- your hospital or other National Health Service institution
For more information about NHS complaints in England, see Dealing with NHS problems - where to start
In Wales, NHS Redress Arrangements may allow you to combine making a complaint with claiming compensation.
If you want more information about how to complain to these types of organisations, you should seek specialist advice from an experienced adviser, for example, a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.
There are several ways of getting compensation for a personal injury:
- using a claims assessor (see under heading Claims assessors)
- taking legal action in a civil court (see under heading Taking legal action)
- making a claim to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (see under heading Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority) (Criminal Injuries Compensation Agency in Northern Ireland)
- through a criminal compensation order (see under heading Criminal compensation orders)
- special Government compensation schemes for some injuries and losses such as vaccine damage or asbestos-related disease – see under heading Special compensation schemes
- in Wales, using the NHS Redress Arrangements.
Amount of compensation
If you have sustained a personal injury you may be able to claim two types of compensation, general damages and special damages.
General damages are paid as compensation for an injury, for example, a payment for pain and suffering or loss of future earnings. The court will decide on the amount to be paid.
Special damages are paid as compensation for actual financial loss caused by the accident up to the date of the hearing. These can include damage to clothing or other belongings, the costs of care, travel costs to hospital, medical expenses (including the cost of private treatment) and the cost of hiring and/or repairing a car if it has been damaged in the accident.
If a court decides that you were partly to blame for the accident, it may reduce the amount of damages you receive. An example of this would be if you were not wearing a seat belt when you were involved in a traffic accident.
In England and Wales, for more information about claiming compensation for personal injury, see Claiming compensation for personal injury – no win, no fee agreements in Legal fact sheets.
Deduction of social security benefits from compensation
If you have been receiving certain social security benefits because of an accident in which you sustained a personal injury, you may have to pay these back out of any compensation you get.
The rules about deduction from benefits are complex and if you think you may be affected you should seek specialist advice from an experienced adviser, for example, a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.
If you have sustained a personal injury you may be considering using the services of a claims management company (CMC). These are sometimes called 'claims assessors'. CMCs offer to take up cases on a ‘no win, no fee’ basis but there may be some disadvantages, including:-
- some CMCs may not use a solicitor or have a solicitor taking responsibility for the case. If this is so, the CMC will not be able to claim compensation through the courts and if you have suffered the injury you may receive less compensation. If you want to use a CMC you should check whether a solicitor will be handling your case
- the CMC may ask you to pay a percentage of whatever compensation you receive to them. You should be aware that while paying 50% of £1,000 damages may be acceptable to you, paying 50% of £10,000 may not.
If you are considering using a CMC you should first seek advice from an experienced adviser, for example, a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.
If you want to take legal action to claim compensation for a personal injury you will need to get advice from a solicitor specialising in these types of cases. This must be done as soon as possible as there are strict time limits on taking legal action (see below).
There are different time limits within which you must begin legal action in a personal injury claim. You should therefore get legal advice urgently if you wish to claim compensation.
The most common claim in a personal injury case is negligence and the time limit for this is three years. This means that court proceedings must be issued within three years of you first being aware that you have suffered an injury.
In some cases, a court may decide to extend a time limit, depending on the circumstances of the case.
If you are considering taking legal action and have not yet been to a solicitor you will need to be aware of the time limits for taking action and should seek help from an experienced adviser, for example, a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.
Paying for legal action
Legal action for compensation for a personal injury can be expensive. You might be able to get help with legal costs from a conditional fee agreement or an insurance policy (many house contents policies, car insurance or travel insurance policies have legal expenses cover attached).
Conditional fee agreement
A conditional fee agreement means that your solicitor will receive no fees if you lose your case. You may, however, have to pay the legal fees and expenses of the other side. Your solicitor will normally ask you to take out insurance to cover this situation. If you win your case, your solicitor's fees and expenses will normally be paid by the other side.
For more information about conditional fee agreements, see Using a solicitor.
If you are considering taking legal action and you have not yet been to a solicitor you may want to seek advice about possible sources of help with legal costs from an experienced adviser, for example, a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.
If you want to take legal action over a personal injury you should consult a solicitor who is a member of the Law Society’s personal injury accreditation scheme or clinical negligence accreditation scheme, depending on the nature of the injury. The Law Society can give details of solicitors on these accreditation schemes and can be contacted at:
The Law Society of Northern Ireland has a list of solicitors specialising in particular areas. This list can be obtained from:
Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL)
The Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) is a not-for-profit association of solicitors, barristers and academics who specialise in personal injuries work. Many lawyers belonging to APIL are part of an accreditation scheme. The accreditation scheme guarantees members are competent in a particular field of personal injury. Accredited lawyers from Senior Litigator level upwards have at least five years' experience of dealing with personal injury claims. All APIL members promise to follow a code of conduct and a consumer charter. They may be useful in helping you find a solicitor who can deal with your case. You can find out more about APIL at:
3 Alder Court
Rennie Hogg Road
Motor Accident Solicitors Society (MASS)
The Motor Accident Solicitors Society (MASS) is an association of solicitors experienced in dealing with personal injuries resulting from motor accidents. Participating solicitors provide a free initial consultation. MASS can be contacted at:-
Motoring organisation members
If you have sustained an injury as a result of a traffic accident and you are a member of a motoring organisation, for example, the AA or RAC, you may be able to get specialist legal advice through that organisation.
Trade union members
If your injury resulted from an accident, unsafe working practices or discrimination at work, contact your trade union if you are a member. The union may instruct solicitors to take legal action on your behalf and you will not have to pay for this.
If you have been injured as a result of a criminal act you may be able to claim compensation through the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (Criminal Injuries Compensation Agency in Northern Ireland). You may have been the direct victim of, for example, an assault or your injury may have been sustained when you were attempting to help the police after a crime had been committed. A close relative of a person who died because of injuries can also make a claim.
You must report the incident to the police at the earliest opportunity and an application must normally be made within two years of the incident. However, in exceptional circumstances, the authority may be willing to extend this limit. An example would be if you are making a claim for abuse you suffered as a child.
You must apply online or through the telephone helpline.
The contact details of CICA are:
Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority
Alexander Bain House
15 York Street
Helpline: 0300 003 3601 (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 8.30am to 5.00pm; Wednesday from 10.00am to 5.00pm)
The Criminal Injuries Compensation Agency in Northern Ireland
34 Upper Queen Street
Tel: 028 9024 9944
Fax: 028 9024 6956
In England and Wales, you can get further information about applying for criminal injuries compensation from the Criminal Injures Compensation Authority at www.justice.gov.uk.
The details of the crime and injuries that must be entered on the claim form are important and if you are completing the form you may want to consult an experienced adviser, for example, a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.
A person convicted of a criminal offence may be ordered by the court to pay compensation for an injury, loss or damage they have caused to someone else by committing the offence. If you are the person who has sustained the injury or loss you cannot apply for this yourself, so it is important that you give the prosecution full and accurate information about the injuries and losses to put before the court.
The amount of compensation will depend on what the offender can afford to pay, but the maximum is £5,000. If a criminal compensation order is made, the court will be responsible for making sure the offender pays.
There are a number of special compensation schemes for some injuries and losses.
For example, people who have contracted HIV when receiving treatment for haemophilia can claim payments from the MacFarlane Trust and compensation from the Government.
People who have suffered damage as a result of vaccinations could make a claim to the Vaccine Damage Payment Unit. For more information, go to www.gov.uk.
There are special schemes for people suffering from an asbestos-related disease. For example, if you were injured by working with asbestos, you may be able to claim Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit as well as being able to make a civil claim against your employers. You may have contracted an asbestos-related disease in another way – for example, by washing the clothes of a family member. In this case, you can make a claim for a special one-off payment from the Government. There are time limits to make these claims. For more information, go to www.gov.uk.
For more information about Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit, see Benefits for people who are sick or disabled.
A specialist solicitor will advise you about whether there is a compensation scheme available for your injury and will advise you whether it's best to apply for compensation under the scheme or whether it's best to make a civil claim.
In Wales, using the NHS Redress Arrangements, you may be able to combine making a complaint with claiming compensation.
These arrangements will apply if your complaint is about services provided by, or on behalf of, a Local Health Board or a National Health Service Trust in Wales.
For more information about these arrangements contact your Community Health Council (CHC). To find your nearest CHC, go to: www.wales.nhs.uk.
If you are having financial problems as a result of a personal injury you sustained in, for example, an accident or an incident of violent crime, you may need to consult a specialist money adviser for help with debt and benefits.
You may need financial advice because a member of your family has been injured or killed in an accident or as the result of a crime. You may be able to claim compensation for the loss of financial support. You may be entitled to other help, for example, financial help to pay for the funeral.
If you are experiencing financial problems because of a personal injury you or a member of your family has sustained you should consult an adviser, for example, a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on the nearest CAB.
There are a number of voluntary organisations and schemes that may be able to give support if you have been injured, or your partner, friend or relative has been injured or killed.
Action against Medical Accidents (AvMA)
AvMA can provide information, support and referral to solicitors if you are the victim of a medical accident. AvMA has a panel of medical experts prepared to give independent opinions.
Christopher Wren Yard
117 High Street
Helpline: 0845 123 23 52
Fax: 020 8667 9065
Centre for Corporate Accountability and the Work-related Death Advice Service
This is a free and independent advice service to families and friends bereaved as a result of a work-related death. They will help you to make sure that the death is properly investigated and subject to proper scrutiny by the prosecuting bodies. They provide advice in relation to deaths resulting from the activities of both private companies and public bodies, such as local authorities and hospitals.
197/199 City Road
Child Brain Injury Trust
The Child Brain Injury Trust provides advice and support for anyone affected by childhood acquired brain injury, their families and carers. It provides a national helpline and has offices in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
The Great Barn
Baynards Green Farm
Helpline: 0303 303 2248
Tel: 01869 341075
Disabled Living Foundation
The Disabled Living Foundation gives advice and information about equipment available for people with disabilities.
In Northern Ireland
Regional Disablement Services
Musgrave Park Hospital
Green Park Hospital Trust
Tel: 028 9066 9501
Fax: 028 9038 2008
Disaster Action was set up by a group of survivors and bereaved people from major disasters in both the UK and overseas. They aim to:
- offer support to those directly affected by major trauma
- raise awareness of the needs of survivors and the bereaved
- help to create a safety climate in which disasters are less likely to occur.
They publish a series of leaflets called 'When disaster strikes', which is available from their website. Contact details are:
Freedom from Torture
Freedom from Torture provides medical care, counselling and therapy to people who have suffered an injury as a result of torture. It sets up self-help groups and can examine patients, for example, to provide forensic evidence of torture injuries. The organisation can be of use to people who are applying for asylum.
111 Isledon Road
Tel: 020 7697 7777
Fax: 020 7697 7799
A number of self-help groups have been set up for people who have been injured by, for example, unsafe medicines. You can find the contact details of many self-help groups at: www.gov.uk.
Headway – the brain injury association
Headway supports people with brain injuries and their carers. It also campaigns for improvements in health and social care services. It runs a helpline, and can provide a list of solicitors who specialise in brain injury cases.
MIND (National Association for Mental Health)
MIND promotes the interests of people suffering from mental illness or distress and provides advice and advocacy services. .In England, contact:
In Wales, contact:
3rd Floor, Quebec House
5-19 Cowbridge Road East
Tel: 029 2039 5123
Fax: 029 2034 6585
Helpline: 0845 766 0163 (Mon-Fri. 9.15am-5.15pm)
NIAMH (Northern Ireland Association for Mental Health)
NIAMH promotes the interests of people suffering from mental illness or distress and provides advice and advocacy services.
80 University Street
Tel: 028 9032 8474
Fax: 028 9023 4940
Organisations for people who have been raped or sexually abused
There are a number of organisations offering help and advice to people who have been raped or sexually abused.
Roadpeace provides emotional and practical support to anyone bereaved or injured in a road crash. It also promotes public awareness of road dangers, and campaigns for justice for victims.
Victim Support offers information and support to all victims of crime, except theft of, or from, cars and child abuse in the family. There are local schemes.
Victim Support (England and Wales)
Supportline address for letters only:
Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre
Tel: 020 7268 0200
Victim Supportline: 0845 303 0900 (Mon-Fri 9am-9pm; Sat-Sun 9am-7pm; bank holidays 9am-5pm)
Fax: 020 7268 0210
Victim Support (Northern Ireland)
70-74 Ann Street