Last Friday was Spinal Cord Injuries Day where five major charities came together to raise awareness and help show the positive future that can be had after an injury. Nevertheless a spinal cord injury is a life changing event and it will always be difficult for the injured person and family to adapt.
Immediately following the accident is a distressing and stressful time and it may be the last thing on an injured person's mind to involve lawyers. However, getting the right legal advice early can help relieve some of the stress and pressure on both the injured person and their family.
There are many ways an experienced lawyer can assist when handling a claim for spinal injury compensation.
Before going into the specifics, it is important to point out that there are numerous physical and psychological factors to consider, each of which can affect the individual's needs and required treatment. Professor Paul Kennedy, head of clinical psychology at the National Spinal Injuries Centre alludes to some of these complexities in a recent Guardian article by Tim Rushby-Smith:
"When people have a new spinal cord injury, they're trying to find out what the situation will mean to them. The fundamental thing that we do in rehabilitation is to communicate a sense that this injury is manageable, and that the individual has the skills to overcome some of the limitations imposed by the condition. This work implies an assumption of acceptance of the reality of what's happened."
“There are more than 1 million axons (nerve fibres) in the spinal cord; what may at first appear to be the same injury can produce dramatically different outcomes in different individuals.”
Adapting to a new way of life
Early engagement with a solicitor can help reduce some of the stress involved with adapting to life after sustaining a spinal cord injury. As a result, the injured person is given the opportunity to focus on the treatment and rehabilitation they need.
Below are details of some of the assistance an experienced personal injury lawyer can provide:
• Making initial contact with any potential defendant - obtaining initial comments on liability, if likely to be contested obtaining all relevant documentation, witness statements, police reports dealing with all relevant correspondence on behalf of the injured person and the family.
• Appointment of a case manager - by liaising with the existing medical professionals, the case manager assesses the needs of the injured person and their families. The case manager will also identify relevant and cost effective resources in order to obtain the maximum benefit for the injured person and family. An individually tailored plan is prepared and implemented.
• Requesting interim payments from the potential defendant and obtaining an agreement from the potential defendant to fund the cost of rehabilitation.
As the claim progresses, the solicitor will also be aware of other experts that have the necessary experience to advise the injured person. Accountants will give advice on the financial impact both in the short and long term. Architects will give advice on any adaptations required to property.
Part of any injury claim will involve consultation with specialist medical professionals, who will examine physical injuries as well as the psychological impact and provide a long-term prognosis. Further mobility may be achieved with intensive specialised therapy and, with specific equipment, quality of life could be dramatically improved.
It's the job of a legal team to ensure financial compensation covers the initial and ongoing costs incurred by the injured person.
How much compensation and support can be expected?
Spinal cord injury compensation is not only for pain and suffering, but also for complex items like:
• Long-term treatment and counselling
• Life long care and living adaptations
• Medication and pain management
• Loss of earnings immediately following the accident
• Future loss of earnings until anticipated retirement
Substantial compensation awards are usually structured to be paid out periodically over the life time of the injured person to ensure that there are sufficient funds to cover the continuing expenses. These types of settlements do usually include a lump sum payment for some of the losses. Where it is not possible to agree settlement on a periodical basis, a lump sum for the total amount of compensation will be awarded. External specialist advice is obtained on how any lump sums can be invested to provide the maximum benefit and security for future years.
When a family is dealing with the aftermath of a spinal cord injury, making a compensation claim can, understandably, be low on the list of priorities. But in my experience, early involvement of legal support can make a real difference with long term financial security.
Families need to concentrate fully on the care of the injured person - leaving it to their solicitor to fight for the compensation and financial reparation they are entitled to.
About the author
Jane Gittins is a Solicitor, Chartered Legal Executive and head of complex injury litigation at Spencers Solicitors. Jane has over twelve years' experience representing injured claimants and is passionate about obtaining the right outcome for each individual client's specific needs.