General Damages in Brief

by Daniel Menell

This is the aspect of a personal injury claim which seeks to compensate a Claimant for their injuries, also known as damages for pain, suffering, and loss of amenity. It is often possible to give someone what transpires to be a reasonably accurate indication of the likely award for general damages following an injury in the first phone call. An injury resulting in a minor soft tissue neck injury, such as a whiplash injury commonly caused by being “rear ended” in a car might attract a compensation payment of only a few hundred pounds if the recovery is swift and uneventful over a period of days or weeks. More prolonged symptoms up to a year, and it may be worth up to about £2,500. A two year recovery may push the value up to about £4,500. An experienced personal injury lawyer should be able to form an educated view and give you broad advice from an early stage, based on your description of the accident and injuries, and might take into account factors such as your gender, age, occupation, pre accident health and a myriad of other matters. Ultimately though, any lawyer worth his salt will advise you that the indication of value is no more than that, an indication. A more accurate valuation really can not be formulated until the lawyer has before them a medico-legal report, which is a medical report prepared by an independent doctor to consider your injuries in detail.

Many clients will have telephoned a number of lawyers, claims referral companies, and whoever has been advertising on their local radio or late night shopping channel that week before deciding which of them to instruct. It is not uncommon in that first conversation to be asked how much the claim might be worth. It might also be that the less scrupulous will be tempted to inflate the figure in a bid to win your business, much in the same way that an unscrupulous estate agent may give you a generous valuation of your home when trying to win instructions to sell it for you. If half a dozen lawyers have given you valuations of between £5,000 and £7,500, your suspicions may not be unreasonably raised in the phone call where you’re assured by a 17 year old in a call centre that your case is worth at least £15,000.

Although the insurance industry might not publicly agree, it is almost universally accepted among claimant lawyers, and often by defendant ones as well, that awards for general damages in the U.K. are really pretty poor. Often, those advancing a claim for the first time are shocked by just how little their injuries are worth. Consider for example injuries of the utmost severity; Claims for quadriplegia, or very severe brain damage might attract an award of under £200,000 for general damages. Total deafness about £60,000. Moving down the scale, your little finger, if amputated in an accident, is worth no more than about £7,000. Loss of a back tooth up to £1,000, and a front only twice that sum. My best advice to someone at the conclusion of a claim is to suggest that they make sure they’re in the U.S.A. next time they are injured.

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