Our Associate Solicitor, Robert Jones, from the Serious Injury team tells us about a client who sought a second opinion for their injury…
I have recently reached a settlement on behalf of a Client (referred to in this article as “D”). D suffered an accident in March 2016 while working in a team who were using an overhead crane to unloading steel girders from the back of a flatbed lorry. There was a communication error resulting in a severe crush injury to the middle finger of D’s dominant right hand. Following a series of operations D’s injured finger had to be amputated. He was off work for almost a year and soon after his return his contract was terminated.
D had first contacted Birchall Blackburn Law to get a second opinion about the possibility of claiming financial compensation from his employers. D had initially instructed another Manchester-based firm who have a fantastic reputation and are ranked very close to the top of the “Legal 500” directory – a place many large firms of Solicitors pay to be listed in.
His case was assigned to an experienced Partner and was presented to his former employers via the not-for-profit organisation, the Claims Portal for low value personal injury claims. They alleged that the former employers were negligent for failing to properly risk assess the job, failing to establish a proper means of communication and failing to provide Personal Protective Equipment. The employer’s insurers denied disputed liability and blamed D. Ultimately, D’s former solicitor saw no way round the insurer’s denial. They advised D to discontinue his claim and closed their file.
Could D get a second opinion on his personal injury claim?
D could not shake the belief that his employer was to blame for what happened and so contacted Birchall Blackburn Law for a second opinion. In our first telephone conversation D told me that he had never seen this Solicitor in person and that most communications had been by letter. D told me that he struggled to understand complicated letters and documents, as he is dyslexic.
What we did…
I wrote to his former solicitors to get a copy of their file and after reading it I made an appointment to go and see D so he could tell me all about his accident face to face. On hearing what he said, it occurred to me that there was far more to his claim than had been put to the employers by his previous Solicitors. The work he had been doing was covered by the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998 (“LOLER”) and I was surprised that this had not been mentioned by his former solicitors. It also occurred to me that such a nasty injury has serious consequences to a manual worker, so D’s claim was far more valuable than what he had been told by his former solicitors.
After our initial meeting, I concluded that D’s case was sufficiently strong to justify starting court proceedings against the employers. I obtained a specialist report from a Hand Surgeon and then a Court claim was issued.
I progressed the case through the court procedure towards a trial date and, throughout, the employers continued to deny liability. Due to the Covid pandemic the trial date in the summer of 2020 was adjourned to February 2021. My preparations for that trial were completed and a barrister was briefed to represent D but approximately two weeks before the trial, the employer’s Solicitors contacted me to make an offer to settle out of court. That offer was rejected but soon afterwards a much more generous (five figure) sum of compensation was offered to D. He was happy to accept those terms and so his case succeeded without him having to go to Court.
D’s case is a really good illustration of the importance of taking a second opinion if you are not satisfied with the advice or conclusions of the solicitor dealing with your personal injury case. That is not to say you will always receive different advice or a better outcome but it is essential that clients are satisfied with the advice they are receiving (even if it is not what they want to hear).
Factors to take into account when choosing a solicitor to give a second opinion.
In D’s case three simple factors seemed key to us getting the right outcome where his previous solicitor had failed:
- Specialist Expertise (in the form of knowledge that LOLER applied)
- Best possible / preferred method of communication (a face-to-face visit)
- A willingness to take a risk for the benefit of the client
It’s also a good idea to ask the solicitor specific questions before making a choice:
Do they have experience of this specific sort of case?
For example: In the context of D’s case, has the solicitor dealt with a case involving cranes (as opposed to a workplace accident generally)?
Are they willing to see you in person?
This could be an appointment at their office or at your home (if mobility is an issue). This has not been possible during Covid but as life starts to return to normal there is no substitute for seeing a client in person. If that is not immediately possible, can a video call be arranged? Remember your claim is valuable to the solicitor just as it is to you so they should be willing to put in the effort to win your business.
Ask the solicitor how many times they have failed at trial
This is counter-intuitive but you should be assured by the solicitor who readily admits to the occasional failures at trial. Personal Injury case are now almost always funded on a “No Win No Fee” basis. The only explanation of a 100% success rate is an unwillingness to take a risk on a tricky case which itself tends to be a sign of lack of knowledge and experience.
How do I know if my case will be successful if I get a second opinion?
The simpler the case, the less likely your original solicitor will have reached the wrong conclusion. This is most likely to happen in cases arising out of accidents at work where complicated Regulations apply.
If you feel that the solicitor does not appreciate how much an injury has affected your life that is also a factor to be concerned about. For example, you have suffered a broken leg and the solicitor suggests obtaining a medical report from a GP.
If you are concerned that the injury might affect your ability to work in the future, and you have not been asked about that, your solicitor might lack the experience and expertise to recognise the full value of your claim.
When should you seek a second opinion on your personal injury claim?
D left it until the solicitors had told him that they were closing the case. That is fine but generally you only have three years from the date of the accident to start a court claim and the closer you leave it to that deadline the more likely it is that another firm will refuse to take it on.
It is imperative that you trust the advice you are receiving and so you should not hesitate to at least informally speak to someone on the phone as soon as you have some concerns about the advice you are receiving. Any reputable personal injury specialist will be happy to spare you a few minutes to talk about your concerns and tell you whether they would be willing to take the case over.
Basically, the sooner you make the call the better. If your original solicitor has already closed your file, you are entitled to ask them for a copy of it. You do not have to do that but the benefit of doing so, is that the second firm can review it as quickly as possible.
Will the first firm charge if you change solicitors?
Almost always. The fees of the first firm are simply recovered for them at the end of the case by the second firm (if the case succeeds).
Getting a second opinion from Birchall Blackburn Law
If you think you are pursuing a compensation claim following serious injury but would like a second opinion, do not hesitate to get in touch with our specialist serious injury team. We are happy to provide advice on a no-obligation basis. If we are willing to take the case on we will do so on a “No Win No Fee”