MW Head of Personal Injury, Helen Clifford, is interviewed in Issue 71 of Lawyer Monthly magazine and they have kindly given us permission to include an excerpt for our clients.
Partner & Head of Personal Injury
CATASTROPHIC INJURY CLAIMS
Beginning our feature looking into catastrophic injury claims, and particularly the revised Rehabilitation Code, Lawyer Monthly speaks to Helen Clifford, partner, Head of Personal Injury and Joanna Bailey, partner, from McMillan Williams Solicitors in London. Helen, who qualified in 1996, is a catastrophic injury solicitor, construction industry expert and health and safety campaigner. Joanna qualified in 1995 and is also a catastrophic injury solicitor, Law Society Personal Injury Panel member and assessor and a road safety campaigner.
Helen is supported by a handpicked team of committed and respected solicitors of which Joanna is only one. Other team members include Justina Molloy, the co-founder of the Cambridge Medico-Legal Forum which meets to solidify links between the legal and medical community. Amy Hillgrove, a Member of the Association of Personal Lawyers’ (APIL) which has been fighting for the rights of injured people for over 25 years and Rachel Glover, the Head of the Fast Track Unit.
Lawyer Monthly (LM): The revised Rehabilitation Code became operational on 1 December 2015. What are some of the key amendments and how do you feel they will benefit serious and catastrophic injury claimants
Helen Clifford (HC): The last Rehabilitation Code was 8 years ago; the latest 2015 version expands upon rather than amends the previous one.
The 2015 code emphasises the need for collaboration between Claimant solicitor and compensator when assessing and providing rehabilitation. The code encourages all parties to adopt this collaborative approach throughout the whole of the case, not just at the initial stages whilst the 2007 code concentrated more on what happened at the outset of the case.
At McMillan Williams we recognise the need to assess every case whether it is of high or low value individually on its merits as every client’s circumstances are different. The Code specifies that the health and economic benefits of early rehabilitation, regardless of agreement on liability, are particularly strong for a catastrophic injury. The 2015 code then sets out the separate assessment processes, reports and recommendations for lower-value injuries and medium, severe and catastrophic injuries. The code recommends a formal Immediate Needs Assessment by a Case Manager who can also support the establishment of a multi-disciplinary team across both the NHS/private sector. It is the Case Manager who works to set up effective communication between these different professionals enabling everyone involved in the treatment, care and rehabilitation to take a systematic approach.
If the recommendations cannot be agreed, the 2015 code suggests that general interim payments should be made which would allow the continuity of treatment. In our experience, the free flow of interim payments is essential in all catastrophic and severe cases as it allows a care package to be established and eases any financial worries the Claimant and their family may have.
LM: How has the new Guide to the Conduct of Cases Involving Serious Injury impacted catastrophic injury claims in the UK so far? Do you feel that the improvements will result in a more quick and efficient settling of claims?
HC: As Claimants are individuals the time in which their personal claim can be concluded differs as the impact of each accident and injury is specific to them. A commitment to prompt disclosure should encourage the early identification of any key issues. If these matters can be identified and addressed promptly, this should avoid unnecessary delay later in the case. Ultimately the medical expert’s recommendations, the ability to follow these and their outcome, determine the pace of the case.
LM: You assist clients with brain injury claims – given that head injury claims can be one of the most complex claims to deal with and require careful consideration, how do you ensure that the full nature and extent of the injury is understood? What are the challenges of dealing with such complex medical conditions?
HC: It is essential to establish a robust relationship with both the Claimant and their family. Claimants can understandably try to downplay their ongoing difficulties as they want to recover and not be considered disabled. In more severe cases Claimants are either unaware or unable to articulate the changes that have taken place. Here their family plays a key role in helping the solicitor to understand the changes in their loved one’s personality, temperament and challenges they face. Building a strong professional but warm relationship with the Claimant and their family is crucial to obtain the right instructions about the impact of the incident on their lives. This helps understand the Claimant’s day to day life so that the correct medical experts are identified, fully instructed and can report all the implications, but critically, to provide recommendations for treatment.
LM: What are the legal options available to clients whose brain injury has been initially overlooked which has caused further problems concerning the health of the Claimant? How common are such medical negligence cases in the UK?
HC: When it comes to emergency treatment, those treating the Claimant will give priority to life threatening injuries. They may not immediately appreciate a brain injury has occurred as the Claimant can present as normal. The family is crucial in helping to establish the extent of any injury and ensuring this is investigated. Where the injury is initially overlooked, the road to rehabilitation can be slower. These cases are uncommon and do not necessarily amount to medical negligence.
The Solicitor must approach these cases with compassion but also tact. A Defendant may argue that a loved one was to blame wholly or partially for an accident, this needs to be handled honestly but with compassion. The Solicitor can advise the family through the process of attending a Coroners’ Court and/or criminal trial and assist with Probate. Simple things such as noting the anniversary of the incident and not sending correspondence around that date can make a difference to the family’s ability to cope with the litigation process.
Unfortunately, an open case often means that the family feels that they are in limbo and cannot move forwards. Therefore, particularly in these cases, the Solicitor should aim for swift resolution to assist the family in coming to terms with their loss.
We Can Help
If you or a family member have been affected by a Catastrophic Injury and wish to talk to one of our experienced Personal Injury Solicitors call us today on 020 3551 8500 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you to the Lawyer Monthly team for kindly allowing us to feature this excerpt. You can read the full interview in Issue 71 of Lawyer Monthly.