How Personal Injury Law in the US Differs from UK Legislation
September 27, 2013
I work in the UK as a personal injury lawyer and used to have some pre-conceived ideas about US legislation. We often hear in the English press about personal injury claims running into the millions of dollars with our cousins over the pond. For example, the person who spilt coffee in their lap and managed to sue a large fast food chain is a well-documented example.
However, I’ve recently spent some time working over in the States and so am now in position to dispel some of the ideas I used to have. As a result, I thought I would put together this short article to explain what I feel the main differences are between personal injury claims in both countries.
Personal Injury Claim Companies
Personal injury lawyers in the UK are bound by some very tight legislation. This means that they are not permitted to directly approach clients. Also, any marketing that they produce is closely monitored too – scare tactics are definitely not allowed. As a result, middle men companies started to appear about two decades ago. These personal injury claim companies will advertise on television and in the press. Once they have a client, they will then sell that lead onto a bona-fide personal injury lawyer.
Image : An example of a personal injury middle man company in the UK
How Personal Injury Lawyers Work
We have two different types of lawyer in England. They are called solicitors and barristers respectfully. Barristers tend to only work on personal injury claims of a high value, and where there may be a disputed liability factor. They will also not tend to have direct contact with a client. This is where solicitors come in. Personal injury solicitors can instruct a barrister to take a case. Essentially barristers are allowed to work in any court, whereas a solicitor will work on lower grade cases. Think of it almost as a hierarchy if you will.
For full definitions of both these terms then I recommend Wikipedia. Click here to find out about solicitors and use this link to explain a barrister.
How Court Trials Work
It is very unlikely that a personal injury claim will result in a trial by jury. Large court cases of this kind will only usually occur if there is an aspect of public interest and/or importance related to the case. The majority of personal injury claims will be resolved in a county court setting and settled by just one judge with no jury. This contrasts to the US system where you will have a trial jury sitting in on tort cases. I believe that this is one of the factors to why US personal injury claim amounts do on average seem to be higher than those paid out in the UK – because there is a lot of expense involved in the process.
Image: A typical English court of law – image copyright of Flickr @ flickr.com/photos/ell-r-brown
Damage Pay-Outs & Compensation
There are two forms of damages payable from a personal injury claim. There are “general damages” and “special damages”. A person can expect to win general damages as compensation for something you cannot put a value on – for example, a broken leg. It’s impossible to put a price on pain, suffering, and loss. Generally speaking, general damages are usually the least monetary value of a claim. Loss of earning with usually result in higher pay-outs. In the United States you will find juries being able to make damage awards up to any limit as well as punitive damages being recoverable. Another factor why US claims will typically be of a higher value than those pursued in the UK and England.
Special damages relate to anything that can have a monetary value attributed to it. This would include doctor and hospital bills where relevant, damage to property (for example a car), and financial loss of wages.
In the UK we don’t have depositions. There are witness statements, but these are documents presented during the case with no witness being called and no cross-examinations of witnesses occurring – this is true for most personal injury claim cases that take place in the UK. A witness can be prosecuted if it is found that they have provided an un-true statement.
To conclude, there are many small differences between the two countries when it comes to personal injury law, however, generally speaking the processes are the same. They key differentiator is the level of damages that can get paid.
About the Author
This guest post was brought to you courtesy of the London, UK-based website: PersonalInjurySolitorsLondonUK.co.uk The websites offers guidance to London people who want to find out where they can get the best personal injury solicitors to take on their compensation claim.