Any unexpected injury can be an upsetting experience that may disrupt your daily life and need you to take time off work during recovery. However, if the injury you suffered is particularly severe, it can have a major, life-changing impact on your future and family.
A serious injury is usually defined as physical trauma to the body that needs immediate medical care and treatment. Examples include spinal injuries, amputations, severe burns, brain injuries, loss of sight or cauda equina syndrome. Severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other psychiatric trauma are also considered serious injuries.
Some of the most common causes of serious injuries include road traffic accidents, criminal assaults, accidents at work and medical negligence. If another person was at least partially responsible for your accident, you might be eligible to make a serious injury claim.
The compensation award for a severe injury covers the pain and suffering you endured, related financial expenses, as well as future needs and lost wages if you are unable to return to work.
What is classed as a serious injury?
A serious or catastrophic injury is generally defined as physical trauma to the body that is likely to have a long-lasting impact on the victim and their family’s life. Such injuries are considered life-changing and may even lead to death. Severe injuries usually result in the following:
- Permanent impairment or loss of a body function
- Long-term mental or behavioural disorders
- Permanent disfigurement
If another person was responsible for your injury, you might be able to claim serious injury compensation. The most common injuries leading to a claim include, but are not limited to:
Brain injuries may be due to trauma from blows or jolts to the head or penetrating wounds, as well as non-traumatic injuries like infections or poisoning. These can affect the brain function and integrity, and a serious injury can lead to permanent physical, cognitive, sensory or behavioural manifestations, such as:
- Personality changes
- Memory loss
- Speech difficulties
- Untimely death
Severe brain trauma can leave the victim physically or mentally disabled and dependent upon others. If a loved one suffered a traumatic brain injury due to someone else’s negligence, you might be able to make a serious injury claim on their behalf.
Spinal cord injuries
The spine is divided into four distinct regions: the cervical, thoracic, lumbar and sacral. The symptoms of a spinal cord injury depend on the injured area. As a general rule, the higher the damage is, the worst the potential outcome, including death.
Spinal injuries may be complete, caused by the severing of the spinal cord, or incomplete, usually caused by compression. Long-term complications of spinal trauma that may lead to a claim for serious injury compensation include:
- Paralysis in the arms, legs, or both
- Chronic pain
- Sexual dysfunction
- Loss of bladder and bowel control
- Inability to regulate your blood pressure or body temperature
Losing a part of your body can be devastating and lead to severe emotional trauma and significant life changes. Most often, amputations are due to traumatic events like car collisions or machinery accidents at work. More rarely, such a severe injury may also be the result of medical negligence, such as poor management of an infection or diabetes.
A successful serious injury claim for the loss of a limb cannot take back what happened to you, but it can cover all your future medical needs and lost wages if you cannot return to work. This can help you regain your independence and enjoy life again with your loved ones.
Loss of sight or hearing
Serious injuries that affect the senses can be particularly distressing and have a devastating impact on your life. Our eyes are the main organ through which we perceive others and our environment. Besides causing severe emotional trauma, losing our sight can impose many restrictions and considerably lower our quality of life.
While not as severe, hearing loss can also cause significant suffering, anxiety and loss of enjoyment of life. Common causes of hearing or vision loss include accidents at work, penetrating wounds, head injuries and medical negligence.
Severe burn injuries
Severe burns are not only caused by fire or extremely hot objects. Electric shocks, dangerous chemicals, extremely cold weather, and radiation can also cause burn injuries and damage underlying tissues such as muscles, nerves, blood vessels and tendons.
Besides scaring and disfigurement, a serious burn injury may lead to psychological trauma, loss of mobility, significant functional impairment, amputations and even death. If you suffered severe burns due to the negligence of another party, you should be able to claim serious injury compensation.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
It is normal to experience fear and distress during and after a severe accident or another traumatic event, but you should start to feel better over time. However, if these symptoms persist or worsen and interfere with your daily activities, you will likely be diagnosed with PTSD.
While moderate PTSD does not last longer than a year or two, the effects of the trauma can sometimes be permanent and severely impact the victim’s ability to work, engage in social activities, or function anywhere close to pre-trauma levels.
Unfortunately, fatal accidents happen every day, either due to road traffic collisions, criminal assaults, machinery accidents at work or medical negligence. While nothing can help ease the pain of losing a loved one, serious injury compensation can help ease the financial strain you might be under due to your loss.
The type of injury you suffered does not affect your right to make a serious injury claim, but it will determine how much compensation you might receive if your case is successful.
Who can make a serious injury claim?
Anyone who suffered a serious injury due to the negligence of another person is entitled to make a serious injury claim. If you believe you have valid grounds to ask for compensation, you should seek legal advice as soon as possible.
A personal injury lawyer will ask you some questions about your accident and the injuries you suffered to verify your eligibility. As a general rule, you should be able to claim serious injury compensation if:
- Your accident took place in the last three years
- Another person was at least partially responsible for it
- That person owed you a duty of care
If your solicitor believes you have a fair chance of receiving damages for your injuries, they will offer you a no win no fee agreement and will help gather evidence to support your case, such as:
- Medical records related to the injuries your suffered, treatments and prognosis
- An independent assessment with a medical specialist
- Photographs of the accident scene
- Photos of any visible injuries and damage to your belongings
- Statements from witnesses who saw how the accident happened
- Police reports if you were involved in a violent crime or hit-and-run accident
- An accident report, if you were injured at work or in a public place
- Your notes about how the accident happened and how your injuries affected your life
- Records of lost wages
- Receipts for all the financial expenses you incurred due to your injury
After you have all the necessary proof to support a serious injury claim, your solicitor will contact the party at fault and inform them of your intention to pursue compensation. They will have three months to investigate your claim and give you a response.
If the defendant admits liability, your solicitor will then negotiate a settlement on your behalf. If they deny any responsibility for your serious injury, you may have to argue your claim before a judge. However, this rarely happens, as more than 95% of all personal injury claims settle out of court.
What are the most common causes of serious injuries?
While many different accidents could lead to severe injuries, the most common causes that lead to serious injury claims include the following:
- Road traffic accidents
Road traffic accidents can cause devastating injuries, especially to vulnerable road users such as pedestrians, cyclists and motorcycle riders. In the UK, someone is killed or seriously injured every 22 minutes in a road accident.
According to the Road Traffic Act 1988, every road user must exercise reasonable care for the safety of other road users. Accidents caused by speeding, violating traffic laws, distracted driving and other negligent behaviour usually lead to successful claims for serious injury compensation.
- Violent crimes
Violent crimes include physical assaults, sexual abuse, terrorist attacks and robberies. Besides physical harm, a violent crime can cause severe psychological and psychiatric trauma that can permanently affect the victim’s life.
Most often, the offender is either unidentified or cannot afford to pay for the damages they caused. Blameless victims of violent crimes could nonetheless claim compensation from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA). With some exceptions, the time limit to make a CICA claim is two years after the event and only after reporting it to the police.
- Accidents in public
The local authorities and private business owners have a duty to maintain all public places in good working order and safe for visitors. Their duties are stated by two main pieces of legislation, namely the Highways Act 1980 and the Occupiers’ Liability Act 1957.
Accidents in public that may result in serious injuries are most often due to slips and trips, falls from height and being hit by falling objects. These are usually caused by preventable hazards, such as pavement defects, potholes, slippery surfaces and objects left in walkways.
- Accidents at work
According to Health and Safety Executive statistics, in 2021/22, there were 123 work-related fatalities in Great Britain, a decrease of 22 from the previous year. The most common causes of severe injuries at work are machinery accidents, falls from a height and being struck by a moving object or vehicle.
Employers are legally responsible for the health and safety of employees. They must take all reasonable measures dictated by the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 to prevent workplace accidents. Failing to do so would make them liable to pay serious injury compensation.
- Faulty products
Customers are entitled to expect that the products they buy are in good working order and would not threaten their health and safety. Unfortunately, that is not always the case, and sometimes, a faulty product can lead to severe and even life-threatening injuries.
Under the Consumer Protection Act 1987, manufacturers are strictly liable if a product they sold was defective and causes serious injury to clients. That means the victim does not have to prove negligence in a compensation claim but only show that the product that caused their injury was faulty, and the defendant is responsible for its release on the market.
- Sporting activities
Many sports are inherently dangerous, but that does not mean that some serious injuries cannot be avoided by taking proper precautions. Common sporting activities that may lead to a severe injury include skiing, snowboarding, racing, boxing and horse riding.
If you or a loved one were injured due to someone else’s negligence, you might be able to claim compensation. A preventable sports accident could be due to faulty equipment, dangerous ground conditions, inadequate training and deliberate assaults during sporting events.
- Military accidents
Military personnel are Ministry of Defence employees and have the same rights dictated by the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and other relevant legislation. While injuries in direct combat are sometimes unavoidable, reasonable precautions should be in place to keep service personnel safe from harm.
Common military injuries that may lead to a serious injury claim include PTSD, hearing loss, amputations and traumatic brain injuries. The Armed Forces Compensation Scheme (AFCS) is a no-fault scheme that awards compensation to all victims of military accidents, regardless of liability.
- Medical negligence
All healthcare providers must provide a reasonable standard of care and treatment to patients. Doctors and medical staff are expected to be skilled and knowledgeable and only act upon informed consent from the patient. Medication errors, surgical errors and birth injuries are just some examples of medical negligence that may lead to a serious injury claim.
Regardless of your accident, if someone else was at least partially responsible for it, you should be able to claim compensation for your pain, suffering and the financial losses you incurred.
How much compensation can I claim for a serious injury?
The amount of compensation you could receive if your serious injury claim is successful depends on a variety of factors, including:
The special damages you incurred, such as:
- Medical costs for hospitalisation, medication, diagnostic tests and interventions
- Cost of rehabilitation and ongoing medical treatment
- Adaptations you may need to your house or vehicle to accommodate your needs
- Cost of care and assistance, either from a professional or a family member
- Loss of earnings suffered by you and your loved ones
- Loss of earning capacity, if you are unable to return to work
- Cost of medical equipment such as mobility aids and prostheses
- Transportation costs
- Any other out-of-pocket expenses incurred due to your injury
The type and severity of your injury and how it affected your life, also known as general damages. This takes into account:
- Physical pain and suffering
- Scarring and disfigurement
- Physical or mental impairment
- Psychological and emotional trauma
- Loss of prospects and enjoyment of life
- Loss of consortium or companionship
- Reduced quality of life and untimely death
- Loss of amenity
The aim of serious injury compensation is to minimise the injury’s impact on your life and get you back to the position you were in before the accident. To calculate a fair settlement, your solicitor will gather information on all the aspects of your accident and how it affected your life.
The compensation for special damages is calculated by adding up all your past and future expenses. General damages are calculated by referring to the compensation guidelines published by the Judicial College. These set out the guidelines for pain and suffering based on the type of injury sustained. For example, you could receive the following:
- £205,580 to £379,100 for very severe brain injuries causing various degrees of physical or mental disability and leaving the victim in need of care and assistance;
- £24,740 to £171,920 for a serious injury that might lead to amputation of one or both hands;
- £90,250 to £281,520 for the amputation of one or both arms or part of them;
- £24,950 to £36,310 for complete loss of hearing in one ear;
- £102,890 to £132,040 for total deafness and loss of speech
- £160,600 to £215,310 for amputation of both legs below the knee
- £191,950 to £240,590 for a severe leg injury causing the loss of one or both legs above the knee
- £59,860 to £100,670 for very severe PTSD causing permanent symptoms
- £79,890 to £141,150 for severe injuries due to cauda equine syndrome resulting in severe pain and partial or complete paralysis
- Up to £268,720 for loss of sight in both eyes
What is the time limit to claim serious injury compensation?
The general time limit to make a serious injury claim is three years after the date of an accident or negligent act, according to the Limitation Act 1980. If you do not make a claim within the time limit, your case becomes statute-barred, and you can no longer take legal action.
If your injury developed over time, or you did not become immediately aware of negligence, the time limit begins to run on the date of knowledge.
The claim limitation date is not always subject to the three-year time limit. For example:
- If the victim is a child, a parent or another suitable adult could claim serious injury compensation on their behalf at any time. The three-year countdown begins on the child’s 18th birthday. At this point, they have another three years to bring a claim themselves.
- There is no time limit for a litigation friend to make a claim on behalf of an adult who cannot handle their case due to a lack of mental capacity. If the victim regains their mental capacity, they will have three years to start legal proceedings.
- If the victim suffered a serious injury due to a violent crime, the time limit to claim through the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) is two years after the event.
- Military personnel have seven years to claim serious injury compensation through the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme and three years to claim under civil law.
- If you or a loved one suffered a serious injury abroad, the time limit to claim depends on each country’s rules and can be as short as six months.
- If you lost a loved one due to an accident that was someone else’s fault, you could make a serious injury claim within three years after the date of death.
As a general rule, you should always try to speak to a legal adviser as soon as possible after an accident. This will ensure they have enough time to collate the evidence they need to build a solid personal injury claim. As this could take a considerable amount of time, most solicitors will not accept a case with less than six months to the limitation date, even if it has merit.
Can I make a serious injury claim on behalf of a loved one?
If a loved one cannot claim themselves, you may be entitled to pursue serious injury compensation on their behalf. To do so, you must apply with the court to become their litigation friend. This involves filing a certificate of suitability and a certificate of service together with your claim, which your personal injury lawyer can help you with.
Before appointing you, the court will verify that you meet specific criteria, such as:
- You can conduct legal proceedings in a fair and competent way;
- You have no conflict of interest with the victim;
- You undertake to pay all fees you might incur during the claims process.
Before deciding to apply for the role of a litigation friend, you should be aware that this is a long-term commitment that brings multiple responsibilities, such as:
- Attend court hearings
- Make decisions about the claim and keep updated on proceedings
- Consider any compensation offers
- Take legal advice and give directions to your solicitor
- Pay any fees requested by the court
As a litigation friend, you could make a serious injury compensation claim on behalf of:
- A child under 18
Children under 18 are not considered mature enough to hire a solicitor and take legal action. Usually, one of the parents will act on their behalf, but the litigation friend could also be another family member, friend, social worker or any other individual with a lasting power of attorney.
- A protected party
Under the Mental Capacity Act 2005, an adult is considered a protected party if they suffer from:
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Severe sleep deprivation
- An intellectual disability such as autism or Down syndrome
- A severe mental illness like bipolar disorder or major depression
- A neurodegenerative disease such as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia
- A traumatic brain injury or stroke
Any settlement negotiated out of court must be approved by a judge in a court hearing. If your case is successful, your solicitor could also help you set up a personal injury trust for the victim. This ensures their serious injury compensation will not affect their right to receive means-tested benefits or care contributions.
How much will it cost to make a serious injury compensation claim?
If you have a valid serious injury claim with a fair chance of success, your solicitor will likely offer you a no win no fee service. This is the preferred way of funding a personal injury claim because it allows everyone to take legal action, regardless of their financial situation.
Your solicitor will offer you support and advice at every step of the claim without asking for any upfront fees. Furthermore, if your claim is unsuccessful, you do not have to pay them a single penny. Therefore, starting a claim for serious injury compensation will not cost you anything, and there is no financial risk for you.
At the beginning of your claim, your solicitor will also take out After the Event (ATE) insurance on your behalf. This ensures that you will not incur any out-of-pocket expenses if your claim fails and covers all your legal costs and disbursements, including:
- The defendant’s solicitor fees
- Court fees
- Barrister fees if your claim goes to court
- Police and medical reports
- The cost of expert witnesses
If you claim on a no win no fee basis, you only have to pay anything if you receive injury compensation, which will include:
- The cost of the ATE insurance policy;
- A success fee goes to your solicitor for the risk they took by offering you the conditional fee agreement. The success fee can be a maximum of 25% of your compensation and will be agreed upon from the outset.