Personal injury claims

A young man rubbing his neck

Information on what to do if you're injured in a car accident, how to make a personal injury claim and what to do if you feel a compensation claim is taking too long to resolve.

Key points

  • Gather all the details you can following an accident or incident
  • Contact your insurer as soon as it's practically possible
  • If the blame lies with a third party their insurance will be liable, although you may need legal expenses cover for help pursuing some claims
  • If you're at fault or there's no blame your right to compensation will depend on your policy

It's the stuff of nightmares - being seriously hurt in a road accident.

But after the bruises have faded, the bones have mended and the overall trauma is starting to lessen, the last thing anyone needs is to have hassle with a car insurance company when making a personal injury claim.

For those who are injured in a collision, the debate surrounding rising costs of cover brought on by fraudulent whiplash claims must rub salt into genuinely painful wounds.

But the good news is that there's no real evidence of insurers trying to shirk their responsibilities when it comes to paying out what's rightfully due.

Life may have become harder for the fraudsters, but genuine claimants shouldn't have to worry. Put simply, there's been no backlash against whiplash.

What to do after an accident

If you do suffer injury in a car accident, then the immediate priority must be to seek whatever medical treatment is necessary for yourself or anyone else who may also have been hurt.

If there's a police report and you've been to hospital, it's pretty clear whether someone has been injured
Martyn James, Financial Ombudsman Service

That may involve calling an ambulance and the police.

But if you're able you should also attempt to gather some useful information - or at least have it gathered by someone else on your behalf.

This will include the registration numbers of all vehicles involved, the names and contact details of any witnesses at the scene, and the contact and insurance details of the other drivers. It might also be useful to take photos of the accident.

By attending hospital or your doctor's surgery you'll create medical documentation that will later be able to support your claim. Remember to keep all your travel receipts and any other expenses.

How to make personal injury claims

Contact your insurance company as soon as possible to report the accident and begin your claim.Car

If the accident that resulted in your injury was the fault of another driver, then your claim will be against their insurer.

If it's not another party's fault then you'll need to have personal accident cover included on your insurance policy to be able to make a claim.

There are normally two aspects to a personal injury claim. The first will be to seek a compensation payment for the pain and suffering caused by the injury.

The second is to recover expenses such as loss of earnings if you're off sick from work, or medical expenses resulting from the accident.

Medical expenses cover

Although everyone in the UK is entitled to free emergency treatment on the NHS, a little-known section of the Road Traffic Act means that the first doctor on the scene of the accident is allowed to charge for their attendance if they don't work for an NHS hospital.

The one situation where an injured party might face civil proceedings to make them pay the bill is if they're an uninsured driver who causes an accident

However, as the charge is aimed at taking the burden of the cost of road traffic accidents (RTAs) off the UK taxpayer where an insurance company can be held to account instead, it's highly unlikely you'll ever have to deal with this charge personally.

Basically, this is most likely to apply if a qualified doctor happens to be passing the scene of the accident and stops to help.

The doctor can send the bill to the driver of the vehicle, but if you receive a bill, in most cases you'll simply pass it on to your insurance company to deal with.

On 30 April, 2015, checked 255 comprehensive car insurance policies listed on the matrix of independent financial researcher Defaqto and found that 95% included cover for emergency medical expenses as standard.

In most cases, a claim for medical expenses won't affect your no-claims bonus.

The one situation where an injured party might face civil proceedings to make them pay the bill is if they're an uninsured driver who causes an accident.

How long does a claim for personal injury compensation take?

There has been on occasion a lack of urgency amongst some insurance companies to sort out compensation claims - a trend noted by the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS).

If you feel an insurer is taking too long to look at something, then put your complaint in writing straight away
Martyn James

"When people are in a car accident the facts are usually pretty indisputable," said Martyn James of the FOS.

"At the end of the day, if there's a police report and you've been to hospital, it's pretty clear whether someone has been injured and there will be doctors' reports along those lines.

"We have more reason to think insurers are rejecting claims in the area of health insurance rather than car insurance, but there has been a hardening of attitudes across the board and positions have become more entrenched."

This can be especially infuriating if you're fobbed off by an insurer who tries to point the finger of blame elsewhere.

"It's not so much that insurers are not paying out, but one of the areas where we are seeing some complaints is where work is contracted out," said James. "For instance, where loss adjustors are used and they delay the process.

"We have reminded insurers that if they have contracted out certain services, we would consider those contractors to be employees of that insurer.

"So, if there is a loss adjustor who's not pulling his or her finger out, or not being fair, we would consider that for all intents and purposes that loss adjustor works for the insurance company. So, we would be looking at a complaint against the insurer."Income protection

Aren't there too many bogus claims?

The wave of bogus or exaggerated whiplash claims should not deter anyone from making a genuine personal injury claim.

Indeed, the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers submitted figures to a government inquiry in April 2013 stating that whiplash claims had actually fallen by nearly 60,000 in 2012-13.

Many insurance companies have claimed that the spike in dubious claims has resulted in higher premiums, but some critics have argued that insurers themselves helped create the compensation culture by selling information to ambulance-chasing law firms.

Either way, the government plans to raise the small claims court limit for whiplash injuries to £5,000 and to introduce tougher medical checks.

"Medical claims are obviously very distressing indeed, but people should keep records of what has happened to them," said James.

"If you feel an insurer is taking too long to look at something, then put your complaint in writing straight away. They cannot penalise you for making a complaint and you will then have a record should you need to go the ombudsman.

"A lot of complaints are not so much about money, but it's where consumers feel they're hitting their heads against a brick wall and not getting very far."

By Graham Thomas