Pursuing a personal injury claim, whether because of medical negligence or an accident, can be a lengthy, demanding and at times frustrating process for all concerned. These are commonly complex cases, and can in some cases take years to resolve.
Nevertheless, the pursuit of a personal injury claim is an essential area of law, because for many people the compensation they receive as a result will likely be the only means through which they can enjoy any sort of quality of life. Therefore, regardless of what is required in order to see a personal injury claim through, obtaining compensation through the courts is vital.
This can mean, however, pursuing a claim is rarely a simple or undemanding process for an individual who has been injured, or their family.
What makes personal injury claims so challenging?
There are many reasons why pursuing a personal injury claim is not necessarily a straightforward business.
It is my experience that in most cases, injuries, whatever the context, are the result of a mistake (or often a series of mistakes). Generally speaking, hurt will most likely not have been intended; however, this does not lessen the impact on the injured person.
As a result, personal injury cases can require considerable time and effort to establish negligence (fault) on the part of an institution (in the case of birth injuries, for instance), or an individual (for example, in a motor vehicle accident).
In cases of medical negligence, this will usually be disputed by the medical practitioner and/or institution involved. Establishing responsibility is likely to be a highly complex and challenging task, requiring doggedness and patience in equal measure on the part of all. It can take significant amounts of time, energy and resources to pursue.
Pursuing personal injury claims can also be made more challenging by the fact that an injured person and their families can sometimes have great difficulty in reconciling themselves to the consequences of an injury, and what it might mean for their future.
For parents with a child who is disabled due to a birth injury, for example, it can take some time for the extent or nature of the injury to become fully apparent. In some instances, the implications of caring for a child who has become disabled because of negligence are too much for the parents to face at first.
In this scenario, it is not unusual for me to meet with parents who find themselves unable to proceed at that time, only for them to come back later, when they feel better able to cope with and take part in the process of litigation.
(On this point, it is important for people to know that anyone over the age of 18 intending to launch a personal injury claim is required to do so within three years of an accident. In the case of a person under the age of 18 impacted by an injury, a claim must be lodged by the time they are 21 years of age.)
Progressing a personal injury claim
Another factor that makes personal injury claims challenging is the stop/start nature of the entire process. This can be frustrating, but it is an inevitable and inescapable part of the legal process.
My team and I at every stage of a matter do all we can to speed things up, but much will be out of our hands. Over the course of a case, we will experience periods of intense activity, followed by times when nothing seems to be happening at all. This is because we are dependent on the actions of others, such as hospitals or doctors to provide their records, the experts from whom we seek advice, etc., and delays are unfortunately always going to happen.
Having been through this many times I understand the frustrations of anyone who has not been involved in litigation before — rest assured, I share them — but clients can always count on the fact that I will keep them fully informed at all times, whether it’s good news or bad.
At the same time, I always do whatever is possible to expedite the process. Experience can be key to this, as is having a committed team with the relevant expertise, as this means that we are better equipped to progress matters as quickly as possible, despite the many barriers that the process can continually throw up.
For instance, having represented so many people in medical negligence and personal injury claims, I have built up a library of resources and a network of experts on whom I can call. This means that I know what my team and I need to research, who to approach to get the necessary answers, and how to get relevant responses from experts. I also know where I need to go when more information is required.
My experience as a lawyer in this space, combined with a long experience as a volunteer at all levels in St John Ambulance Australia, also means that I have the ability to read and interpret medical documents. This is helpful at all stages of a medical negligence or personal injury matter, as it means I don’t need to rely solely on experts — I know what to look for when presented with medical data and how it can be interpreted.
It’s also fair to say that reputation can help when it comes to progressing cases as quickly as possible. Medical experts and others with whom we regularly consult know that my team and I will have distilled and refined the data and documents we present them with, so that it is relevant to their needs, and making it more straightforward for them to provide the precise information we are seeking from them in a report. This can make a substantial difference in the response to our request, and speed up the flow of information we receive.
Why relationships matter
Personal injury is a part of the law that is unlike many others in respect of the nature of the relationship that can form between lawyer and client.
Anyone bringing a claim needs to feel very comfortable and at ease with the lawyer whom they engage to represent them in a personal injury case. From the outset, honesty and openness are essential. This is because over the course of a matter, clients may be required to discuss a variety of extremely personal and private issues.
Finances, family life, physical and psychological health may need to be explored in a way that feels intrusive. Uncomfortable photographs of injuries might have to be pored over with what seems like excessive attention to detail.
This is why being able to trust a lawyer, to feel comfortable with them, and have confidence that you will be treated with respect, is crucial. Ultimately, I would rather a client go to someone else at DBH, or indeed to another law firm altogether, if they didn’t feel they could, for whatever reason, be entirely open and place their full trust in me. That’s how important I think it is.
In return, clients can also expect absolute honesty and openness from me from the outset with regard to the possible success of a case, the potential compensation, the length of time it could conceivably take, and the costs that are in all likelihood going to accrue.
At DBH, we represent clients in personal injury cases on a no win, no fee basis. In simple terms this means that DBH only gets paid after a case is won, and compensation has been awarded. It also means that if the case is not successful, DBH does not receive a fee.
However, at the same time there are up front costs that need to be met during the preparation of a case, and for which a client will be responsible. In medical negligence cases, for instance, a report from a doctor or another health professional can cost around $5,000; it is not uncommon in birth injury cases for the cost of commissioning reports to be in the region of $80,000.
At the beginning of a matter, I don’t attempt to conceal the financial commitment that is likely to be required. Being honest at the beginning avoids difficulties later on. (It is important to note, however, that we can help clients to obtain funding through a disbursement funder such as the Litigation Assistance Fund or Legal Funding Australia, in order to help them meet those out-of-pocket expenses.)
I also make it a point of principle always to respond promptly to phone calls and emails, so that clients feel fully informed about both progress and delays. This is because I understand that for the people I represent, it is their whole lives, not just a case; receiving an email or a phone call can make all the difference to them, their peace of mind and commitment to the matter, so it’s essential that communication is always open. Trust underpins it all.
Why do I specialise in personal injury claims?
As Amy Nikolovski has pointed out, a career in law enables you to follow various paths, depending on your interests and strengths,
I specialised in medical negligence and personal injury law because quite early on in my career I realised that I didn’t want to be the sort of lawyer who looks after the needs of a faceless corporation.
My earliest experiences in my chosen field also showed me the many, frequently devastating ways in which injuries can impact on people’s lives. I quickly became convinced that we all deserve to have a decent quality of life, and if it has been taken away, compensation should be provided to facilitate it as far as possible.
In simple terms, a person who has been hurt through no fault of their own deserves to be looked after. I do my best to achieve that.
This is why I am proud to be a Partner at DBH, where the whole ethos of our firm, from its founding right through to the present day, has been about helping the ‘little guy.’
When it comes to what is required to be a personal injury lawyer, I am fortunate in that I have an enquiring mind. My background as a volunteer in St John Ambulance Australia has also meant I am naturally drawn to understand how the body works and the impact on it of injuries.
Ultimately, I practise personal injury law because I value the relationships I am able to build with my clients, which in turn fires my determination to get the best possible results for them.
I always want the best for my clients, and so will push their claims hard and never let up. This does mean that I take losses very hard, and the pain of losing stays with me much longer than the joy that comes with winning.
At the same time, I have come to understand that one of the most difficult parts of the job is making sure my emotions don’t take over. If this does happen, it means that I am not giving clients the best advice. As an experienced lawyer in this space, I have developed the capacity to look at each case on its merits, and provide the best advice and course of action given the specific circumstances of the case and the client.
Above all, I want the best possible outcome for the people I represent and their families; this won’t look the same for everyone, but I rely on my experience to help me achieve the sort of long-term benefits that will ensure injured people can live their best lives, given what are often the most challenging circumstances imaginable.