The short answer is that you might need to, but it is unlikely.
There are two reasons the case may go to a trial at court:
1. Liability – who was at fault for the accident?
2. Quantum – what is the value of the claim for compensation?
N.B. At a trial, both liability and quantum may be decided by the court.
Liability: Who Was At Fault?
Following the accident, we will take a full description of the accident circumstances from you, we will contact any witnesses and make full enquiries into all aspects of the accident. We will then assess whether your case has good prospects of success and we will discuss this fully with you. If we consider that your claim has good prospects of success, we will submit your case to the Defendant’s insurer with the evidence in support.
The Defendant’s insurer will then assess the case and confirm whether liability is admitted i.e. admit that the Defendant was at fault for the accident, or disputed i.e. the Defendant alleges that you were at fault for, or contributed to, the accident.
If the Defendant admits liability, we can then obtain the evidence in support of the claim so that the value of the claim can be assessed.
If the Defendant disputes liability, we will then fight hard on your behalf to convince the Defendant’s insurer that the Defendant was at fault for the accident. We will submit all relevant evidence to the Defendant’s insurer and discuss with them the accident circumstances and the reasons we consider the Defendant to be at fault. If the Defendant continues to dispute liability, it may then be necessary to issue court proceedings and attend a trial at court for a judge to decide who was at fault for the accident. If this happens, we will, of course, support and advise you all the way.
Quantum: What is the Value of the Claim?
Whether the Defendant admits or disputes liability, it will always be necessary to obtain evidence in support of the claim so that the value of the claim may be assessed. When the evidence in support of the claim is complete (i.e. the medical report(s), the documents in relation your financial losses etc), we will submit this to the Defendant’s insurer and usually together with an offer in settlement of the claim. We will, of course, discuss the value of the claim and the settlement offer with you and ensure that you are in full agreement before the evidence and the offer is submitted to the Defendant’s insurer.
In the majority of cases, it is possible to negotiate a settlement to the claim on the basis of the settlement offer. However, sometimes the Defendant’s insurer will not accept or agree the evidence in support of the claim and/or the proposed value of the claim. If this happens, it may be necessary to issue court proceedings and attend a trial at court for a judge to decide the value of the claim on the basis of the evidence.
Is it better to negotiate a settlement to the claim or go to trial?
In our view, it is better to try to negotiate a settlement to the claim. This applies to both the liability and quantum aspects of a case. This is because there is always a risk in going to a trial at court that the judge will rule against you. This can be even though there is good evidence in support of your case.
In order to try to negotiate a settlement to the case, you can submit a settlement offer to the Defendant insurer in respect of both liability and quantum.
In relation to liability, if the Defendant does not admit liability, you may need to go to trial to conclude your case. However, you are also able to make a split liability offer, for example 75/25 in your favour or 50/50. This may be an acceptance by you of some fault for the accident, but it can also be made on the basis that you recognise the evidence may not be particularly strong and therefore you face a higher risk at trial that the judge will rule against you. It can also be made if you are reluctant to attend a trial.
If the judge at the trial rules against you and finds you at fault for the accident, you will not be awarded any compensation. Therefore, it may be better before the trial to accept, say 75% or 50%, of the proposed value of the claim rather than take the risk at trial of being awarded no compensation. (Please note a settlement on a split liability basis may affect your No Claims Bonus.)
We will, of course, discuss a split liability offer fully with you and advise you as to your options before any offer is submitted to the Defendant’s insurer.
In relation to quantum, when the evidence is complete, you are able to make a settlement offer to the Defendant’s insurer. The Defendant’s insurer may not accept this initial offer, but may submit a counter-offer to try to settle the claim. It is usual when settlement offers have been submitted that a settlement to the claim can be negotiated. However, sometimes this is not possible and therefore you may have no option other than to proceed to a trial.
We will advise you at all times as to your options in terms of settlement negotiations and the risks of proceeding with the case, but sometimes, in order to conclude your case, the only option is to go to trial.
What happens at a trial?
You case and the evidence in support will be fully prepared before the trial so that you have the best chance of being successful. We will also fully prepare you before the trial so you are aware of what to expect and what you will be asked to do. We will instruct a suitably qualified and experienced barrister to represent you at trial and present your case to the court.
At the trial itself, your barrister will take you through your evidence and ensure that the court is aware of the facts of the case and all evidence in support of it.
The Defendant will also be represented by a barrister. The Defendant’s barrister will ask you questions, called a cross-examination, about your evidence. Before the trial, we will prepare you in relation to the questions you may face and the issues the Defendant’s barrister may raise at the trial. You can only be questioned about matters included within the evidence.
Your barrister will also put questions to the Defendant about their evidence.
The judge, having heard all evidence and arguments in relation to your case and the Defendant’s case, will then make a judgment as to who was at fault for the accident and/or the value of the claim. The trial is likely to last between a few hours to one day although in complex cases a trial may take longer.
If you are concerned about your case proceeding to trial or if you would like to discuss any of the above further, call us now on 0161 749 9000 to speak with one of our specialist personal injury lawyers.