You may remember that a couple of weeks ago I wrote about how your case is dealt with up to the point when proceedings are started and I said that I would talk about what happens AFTER proceedings were started in a later article…
The vast majority of cases go thorugh a “Pre action” procedure which basically means that evidence is gathered and discussions take place with the Defendant’s insureres to explore whether agreement can be reached on liability (who is to blame for the accident) and the value of your claim. If it can, then your case will settle at that stage and there will be no need to start legal proceedings.
In some cases one or both of these issues are in dispute; it may be that the Defendant does not accept any liability at ALL for your accident or they may argue that you are partly to blame yourself and we disagree with that. Or it may be that the amount they are offering you is less than I think you deserve. If this happens and agreement cannot be reached then I would advise you to issue procedings and run your case through the Court system. Effectively we are saying “We cannot reach agreement between ourselves so we want the Judge to decide it for us”
The first step in starting legal proceedings is to send a number of documents to the Court. These include a “Claim Form” (giving basic information about your case), “Particulars of Claim” ( giving more details about your case and why you consider the Defendant is to blame) a “Schedule of Losses” (setting out details of your financial losses) and a medical report on your injuries. I would obviously take care of all of this for you and prepare the documents and all you would have to do is check the information and sign the documents for me. I then send the documents to Court together with a Court fee.
Once the Court receives the documents they “seal” them and allocate a Case Number. They then send a sealed copy to the Defendant who have a maximum of 28 days within which to file a defence. This is an important step because both parties have then set out their respective positions (you in your Particulars of Claim and the Defendant in their defence). Each now knows what the other’s case is.
Once the Court receives the defence they send a copy to me and they also send an “Allocation Questionnaire” to each party asking them to provide more details about the current position with the case, what medical evicence has been obtained, what further evidence is needed and what witnesses each party will be relying upon. At this stage each party can also suggest a “timetable ” to the Court within which your case can be set down for a hearing date. There is a further fee payable when the Allocation Questionnaire is sent to the Court.
When the Court receives both Allocation Questionnaires the Judge considers what both parties have said and then takes one of 2 steps. Firstly the Judge could simply give a timetable taking your case all the way through to a hearing date. This is called a Court “Order”. The Order gives dates when each party has to provide a list of all the documents they intend to rely on at the hearing; dates for providing copies to the other side; dates for sending witness statements to each other and the Court; a date for the final hearing and any other steps the Judge considers should be taken. Each party then has to comply with the Order.
Alternatively, if the Court considers from the Allocation Questionnaires that the case is not straightforward it may Order a “Case Management Conference” which means that the solicitor for each party attends a short hearing before the Judge on a given date to give more information about your case. Following that the Judge will then make the “Order” to progress your case.
All the steps ordered by the Judge are aimed at bringing your case to a conclusion as soon and as fairly as possible. Realistically, from the date when the Allocation Questionnaire is sent to Court the minimum time scale for a final hearing is 6 months.
Throughout the course of the timetable I prepare all the documents for you and go through them with you before asking you to sign them. Whilst the timetable is “running” it is open to either party to make or accept further offers of settlement that may result in an acceptable agreement. If that happens then the Court will be niotfied that agreement has been reached and that the Court hearing date will no longer be required. It is very common for the parties to keep talking to each other even though legal proceedings have been issued so just because proceedings have started it does not mean that your case will definitely have to go to a final hearing.
The obvious occasion when your case is likely to go to a final hearing is when the Defendant simply denies any liability at ALL and we do not agree.
Once proceedings have started then at some point it is likely that I will instruct a barrister to consider your case too so you will have the benefit of 2 legal opinions on your case. And if your case DID go to a final hearing then it would be the barrister who presented your case to the Court.
And as ever, if you have any questions about how your case is progressing you just have to call me and ask and I will happily go through it with you.
Until next time