Melanie Burden, Head of Personal Injury at national law firm Simpson Millar LLP, is a key contact in the industry and has been recommended in the Legal 500 as being ‘very thorough’ and a ‘passionate advocate’.
In an attempt to raise awareness of her practice she sat down with Legal Loop to discuss her area of law and highlight one of the lesser known areas of the claims process – the fact that the three year limitation period to bring a claim for an injury sustained as a child only begins when a claimant turns 18.
We’ve seen the Personal Injury sector covered quite extensively in the news recently, what do you think are the main issues facing the industry?
There are a number of factors facing the personal injury industry at the moment, the most immediate of which is of course the potential changes to the whiplash claims process.
I think that there is a general agreement that the status quo cannot continue and there does need to be a reform of the compensation process for road traffic accidents.
The concern from within the industry is the way that these reforms are being pushed through and the fact that the implications seem to extend far beyond the scope that was chartered for being reformed. For example, the raising of the small claims limit to £5,000 and applying reforms to all soft tissue injuries, instead of limiting them to whiplash injuries sustained in RTAs could have serious consequences on the public’s access to justice.
We are anticipating similar effects to the LAPSO reforms back in 2012, which saw claimants significantly restricted in their road to gain compensation that they are owed.
You mention access to justice and claimants receiving compensation that they are owed, is this how you view the role of civil claims in our legal system?
Definitely, our clients have been harmed and have suffered losses because of the actions of a third party, why shouldn’t they be compensated for these losses?
More than the compensation awarded, most of our clients feel that a civil claim offers them some much needed closure, especially if the person that caused their injury does not face any other consequences for their negligence.
A compensation claim can be vital for securing a sense of justice, as it establishes liability and reassures claimants that they were not to blame for their injury, which defendants can often deny right until liability is established and negligence is admitted.
Are the ideas of closure and a sense of justice the reason that you’re trying to raise awareness of the extended limitation period for civil claims that involve injuries sustained during childhood?
Yes I think so, it’s something that’s not widely known and I think that for many people an incident that happened during their childhood can play on their mind for a long time.
There’s definitely a sense of injustice and we find many of the under 21-year olds that have suffered an injury during their childhood through the fault of another party often replay the scenario in their head; there’s a feeling of ‘what if that hadn’t have happened?’ or ‘how could that accident been avoided?’ and pursuing a civil claim can find the answers to these questions and can finally allow those who suffered an injury to move on with their life.
As I say, I think that bringing a civil claim is about so much more than gaining compensation, especially in cases of a claim brought for an injury sustained as a child. In cases where we can establish liability, claimants finally receive recognition that their injury was suffered through the fault of a third party and I think that’s a crucial factor, especially when a claimant has been replaying the incident for many years and considering the scenario from every angle.
Why does the three year limitation period for injuries involving children begin on a claimant’s 18th birthday?
As a general rule of thumb, personal injury claims need to be brought three years after the date of the accident, or three years after someone has knowledge of the injury or loss they have sustained because of an accident.
In instances of children being injured the three year limitation period does still apply, it just begins on the date of their 18th birthday; this means that those injured as a child due to another party’s negligence have until their 21st birthday to submit a claim form.
The reason for this is that while children are still developing it can be difficult to evaluate the damage caused by an injury, so the limitation period begins at 18 when, in theory, any affect an injury had on physical or mental development can be fully realised.
Do you think this is the reason people wait until they are 18 to bring a claim for something that happened during their childhood?
It’s definitely one of the main factors; with children you never know what could affect their development.
Having the limitation period begin on a claimant’s 18th birthday ensures that they have completed their compulsory education and are either about to continue to higher studies or enter the job market. If the injury they suffered as a child was going to hold them back or negatively impact them then this is the crucial period where the true extent of their injury could be realised.
The example we normally use is the fact that if a child suffers a serious injury during their childhood that causes them to miss school, the effect of this missed education may not become apparent until years later after they have taken their exams, so waiting till a claimant turns 18 ensures that a fair and proper amount of compensation can be sought.
Does this mean that compensation can only be awarded in instances where there’s a measurable impact after a claimant turns 18?
Not at all, waiting till a claimant turns 18 can help to understand the full brevity and effect of an injury, but in many cases the extent of an injury is immediately apparent and compensation can be sought either instantaneously by a parent or guardian or retrospectively by the child themselves when they turn 18.
As is in most instances of personal injury claims, we do recommend that claims are brought as soon as possible after the incident itself takes place and the extent of injuries have been established, so that evidence and other due diligence can take place to try and establish liability.
What are the steps that need to be taken for someone to bring a claim for an injury sustained when they were a child?
Claiming compensation for an injury sustained as a child requires a team of specialist lawyers that have experience of finding evidence and establishing events after the fact.
While the process is complex, it all starts rather simply with initial contact; we’ll discuss the facts of a historic accident or injury with a client and will establish the likelihood of proceeding with a claim.
Our team pride themselves on taking as much stress and legwork out of a client’s claim as possible, this is especially prevalent in instances of claims issued for injuries suffered while a client was still young as we can make contact with the defendant, gather as much evidence as possible, and appeal for witnesses in the local area to try and establish the facts of the case.
If you were injured as a child and feel that the responsible party never faced consequences for their negligence you could seek closure via a compensation claim. Get in touch with the personal injury team at Simpson Millar on 0800 260 5012 or visit their dedicated student hub at www.simpsonmillar.co.uk/students to find out more.