I have been reflecting on two related cases where we were instructed in a civil insurance claim by the families of two best friends. They were both cycling enthusiasts and whilst out on a ride, both died in the same road traffic collision. We have been successful in recovering for each of their families a high seven figure insurance settlement in a fatal collision claim.
As a keen cyclist myself I may have had a natural affinity with the families from the outset but it also became apparent that other lawyers prior to myself had been approached and, unfortunately, they were not specialists resulting in the family, following a recommendation, meeting with me.
The journey a family is thrown involuntarily into following a fatal road crash is a complex one which requires very specialist and highly experienced legal guidance.
A solicitor at the outset meeting with the family must be mindful to use appropriate terminology such as referring to “road traffic collision”, “incident” or “crash” as opposed to the word “accident”. To spill a drink is an accident whereas to take a life with a motor vehicle is certainly not. Also, you should refer to the person involved in the collision by their name rather than “victim” or “deceased”. It is important to the family you know who the case is about. You must also know the law applicable to fatal road traffic collision which is not the same as a personal injury claim. The law in a fatal claim is governed by:-
- The Law Reform [Miscellaneous Provisions] Act 1934 which reflects what the person, had they survived, could have claimed for from the point of the incident until their passing, and
- Fatal Accidents Act 1976 allows for those within a certain category to claim from the insurance company for what they relied upon in terms of services and financial dependency.
The family will as a result of the incident embark upon areas on which they will be unfamiliar and benefit with guidance from their solicitor as set out below.
Do you need to obtain probate?
The family will need to obtain probate to enable them to conduct the financial and property affairs of their family member who has past. This is also a requirement to pursue a claim on behalf of the estate. A solicitor should consider this with the family early on.
Will there be a criminal investigation?
In cases of a serious road traffic collision there will be a police investigation which may lead to a criminal prosecution against a third party. The police will provide a Family Liaison Officer (FLO) to the family to act as a bridge between them and the investigating officer so that the family are provided with a certain level of information on the criminal case. However, the civil lawyer will wish to attend any criminal hearings to take a note of the evidence heard in open court so that they can gain an understanding as to what has happened to assist with the advice given to the family for the insurance claim.
The coroner’s role
A coroner will be notified of a death arising from a road traffic collision and an Inquest will be opened. A family will likely benefit from their solicitor attending on their behalf any preliminary Pre Inquest Review Hearings and, if held, to represent them at the final Inquest. In most cases the third party who caused the collision will be insured therefore their insurance company will have at any hearing legal representation so the family should discuss the same with their solicitor to ensure equality of arms.
Unfortunately, media platforms will publish a story of a serious road traffic collision whereby in absence of any input from the family they inevitably will write their own story and, possibly, take photographs from social media. If you have a specialist solicitor then they should arrange for you media support which whilst not able to control media outlets may be able to influence what is published to ensure an approved message is got across and that agreed photographs of loved ones are used.
The families will have the need for support which will fall outside of the service that a solicitor can provide but that does not mean it should not be considered. The family will likely benefit from bereavement counselling therefore they may be put in touch with such services that are often provided by RoadPeace and Brake who are national road safety charities. The families may wish to also participate in road safety campaigns.
Civil insurance claim
A civil insurance claim should keep the client at the centre of everything that is done to ensure that they have been provided with best advice on the funding of their claim, how it is conducted, and then how it is resolved as everyone will have their own preference.
When you act for two separate families affected by the same incident the issues are amplified therefore it was pleasing to receive from the two cyclist families whom we acted the below feedback:-
I was thrown into an unfortunate and tragic life after this incident and that’s when Matthew Claxson came into my family’s life to help mop up the mess we were enduring. Matthew has been a tower of support with all the legalities we have been dealing with and always at the end of the phone instantly we needed him. All my family that Matthew has had dealings with all agreed he explained everything in a calm and easily understandable way. I can’t thank him enough and would never fail to recommend Moore Barlow in the future … thank you.
How Moore Barlow can help
I have since 2008 been a member of RoadPeace the national road safety charity supporting those seriously injured or bereaved on our roads. The support RoadPeace provide to those affected by road crash is excellent and I would hope that everyone bereaved or seriously injured by a road crash are provided with their contact details so that they can choose to seek support within their own time. RoadPeace Helpline: 0800 160 1069 or visit www.roadpeace.org
Matthew Claxson is a solicitor and a lead partner within the Personal injury team at Moore Barlow, a UK Leading Personal Injury firm. If you have been seriously injured or bereaved as a result of a road crash then contact us to explore a legal claim on Freephone 0800 157 7611 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Our team acts for clients who have suffered serious injury or bereavement. We help those clients to access rehabilitation, receive interim payments and compensation to help them rebuild their lives.