The impact of police collision investigation on personal injury claims | Bolt Burdon Kemp The impact of police collision investigation on personal injury claims | Bolt Burdon Kemp

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The impact of police collision investigation on personal injury claims

Throughout the Summer of 2024, I provided the Metropolitan Police with training on how the quality of their investigations into road traffic collisions can have a significant impact on the outcome of personal injury claims.

This training was provided by Bolt Burdon Kemp in collaboration with Leigh Day across 13 sessions. Our presentations were attended by hundreds of officers across the Roads and Transport Policing Command. I outlined the personal injury claims process, I explained how a thorough police investigation can help secure compensation for injured people and provided the officers with tips and recommendations to give injured people the best chance of succeeding in their claims.

The personal injury claims process

Earlier in the presentation I explained the purpose of bringing a personal injury (PI) claim, which is essentially to recover compensation for those needlessly and avoidably injured due to the negligence of others.

My intention was to emphasise that PI claims are not lottery wins. They are designed to put the injured person back in the position they would have been in had the collision not occurred.

Injured people often go through significant financial hardship. My understanding is police officers are financially well looked after by their employers if they are ever unable to work. But this is not always the case with members of the public who work in other sectors. In particular, those who are self-employed can really struggle financially following a serious injury that prevents them from working.

During my presentation, I explained claimants may not instruct PI solicitors until some months after the collision, by which time evidence may have been lost and witnesses’ memories may have faded. This is why we rely so heavily on the evidence the police gather at the roadside.

I went on to describe how we as PI solicitors will commence legal action by notifying the defendant driver and their insurer of the claim. I will also ask the insurer to engage with us in assessing the needs of the injured person and funding any treatment required on a private basis.

It will always be in both parties’ interests for the injured person to recover as soon as possible. Private treatment will also reduce the burden on the NHS. My intention was for this explanation to encourage the police to recommend the injured people instruct reputable solicitors at an early stage.

I went on to describe how claimant solicitors gather evidence in relation to the incident itself and the extent of their client’s injuries and losses. Emphasis was placed on evidence from the police being hugely valuable, as it is often the most contemporaneous and impartial.

The police were informed that the process of making a personal injury claim can be a long one and may take several years to conclude. Only once a significant amount of evidence into a claimant’s injuries and losses has been gathered can settlement negotiations commence.

If negotiations into liability or the claim’s value break down, it will be necessary for court proceedings to be commenced so a judge can decide who was at fault and how much compensation should be awarded.

How the police investigation can help secure compensation

When providing this training to the police, I acknowledged that specialist roads policing teams only deal with a small minority of the crashes that involve serious injury. They will usually only investigate collisions where an individual is fatally injured or will permanently lose their independence. The vast majority of cases are investigated by officers with comparatively much less training in collision investigation. These officers were who my training was primarily aimed at.

I reminded them the burden of proof in a civil PI claim is on the claimant to prove the defendant was at fault and they need to do so on the balance of probabilities. Investigatory work carried out by officers can enable the claimant to overcome that liability hurdle.

I appreciated that, at times, it can be difficult for the police and CPS to secure a criminal conviction following crashes due to the standard of proof in criminal cases being so much higher, i.e. beyond all reasonable doubt. However, even if no further action is taken in the criminal proceedings, a civil claim may still succeed. I explained this offers the injured person an alternative route to accessing justice. Therefore, evidence gathered by the police may still be very useful.

Tips and recommendations for the police

I reminded the police that injured people rely heavily on them to gather as much evidence as possible from the crash scene. Evidence will often be lost if not recorded, so it should be captured there and then at the roadside.

My clients and I will appreciate officers taking details of as many witnesses as possible and their accurate accounts of what happened. Photos of the scene, detailed sketch plans, dash cam footage, body worn footage and breath test results are often extremely valuable.

I emphasised CCTV is also hugely helpful and should be obtained as soon as possible after the collision, preferably on the day. In many cases, CCTV will be deleted not long after the collision and often before PI solicitors are instructed.

Well thought out conclusions within the collision report can also make a big difference to the outcome of a PI Claim. If, for example, the collision report incorrectly describes the direction or positioning of the vehicles, this can bring into question the claimant’s version of events and could result in the claim failing altogether.

Also, I explained, injuries should not be described as “slight” or “minor” within the collision report without good reason. Detailed descriptions of injuries and symptoms complained of should be contained in the collision report. The is because people who manage to make their own way to hospital may have suffered life-changing injuries. Defendant insurers may also withdraw funding for private treatment based on a collision report that incorrectly describes the extent of an injury. Completion of the collision report should also be delayed if at all possible until all parties’ versions of events have been obtained.

The importance of cooperation and communication between the police, the injured person and their solicitor was also covered. If the police are able to provide the defendant’s details and registration number early on, this enables the claim to get underway sooner and means quicker access to private treatment and interim payments.

The police were also informed they can help by signposting victims to reputable PI firms and also charities, such as Brake, who can offer additional support for injured people and their families.

Final words

Collaboration between the police and the legal representatives of injured people can help secure maximum compensation. It was a pleasure to provide the Metropolitan Police with the information outlined in this blog. I did acknowledge the significant time and financial constraints on the police, but pointed out that with only slight adjustments to investigatory work and with additional care being taken, a real difference can be made to an injured person’s life.

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