There can be no doubt that speaking out about being abused as a child or an adult takes incredible courage.
Considering taking legal action can be daunting and overwhelming. Many people will wonder where to start, what the process involves and whether they will be able to cope. The following is an attempt to break down the process into six simple steps.
Finding the right lawyer and initial meeting
Choosing the right lawyer for you is probably one of the most important decisions you will make during this process.
This is a very complex area of law and there will be many hurdles to overcome along the way. The law is constantly changing and the success of your case may depend on the lawyer you choose. Whilst not exhaustive, you may want to consider the following when choosing the right lawyer to represent you in your claim:
- Does your lawyer possess skill and expertise in this complex area of law? Is compensation for sexual abuse a significant focus for them? How many years of expertise do they have? Have they been involved in landmark cases?
- Does your lawyer have a proven track record? What do their previous clients say about them? Ask to see written testimonials and look at their website for further information.
- Does your lawyer only represent claimants, i.e. survivors of sexual abuse?
- Are your lawyers accredited? Are they members of ‘APIL’ (Association of Personal Injury Lawyers) and/or ‘ACAL’ (Association of Child Abuse Lawyers)
- Is your lawyer patient? Will he or she afford you the time you need and explain the process in full, no matter how much time that takes? Do they treat you and other people with respect?
- Is your lawyer willing to travel to meet with you?
- Is your lawyer open and honest about the costs involved in bringing your claim?
Once you have chosen your lawyer they will invite you to meet with them so that they can take more details regarding the background to your claim and identify the potential defendant, or in some cases, defendants.
An experienced lawyer will not press you for details of the nature of the abuse until you are ready to talk and feel comfortable doing so.
It is likely that the funding of your potential case will be explained to you, as your lawyer will understand that this is an area of concern for most clients.
Following your initial meeting, your lawyer will start the evidence gathering process. The type of evidence required is dependent on the nature of the claim and the identity of the defendant.
The defendant may be an individual, local authority, church, sporting or medical organisation.
The evidence gathering process includes obtaining records from various organisations that may support your claim. Records can be obtained from medical organisations, police, social services, schools or colleges and the court. If appropriate, statements may also be taken from family members, friends or others who can support you in your claim. This will be done in a sensitive manner and you will be kept fully informed at all times.
This process can be lengthy as providers are often slow to respond to requests and arrange meetings. Once your records are received your lawyer will read them carefully to further assess and progress your claim. In some cases your lawyer might invite you to a meeting with a barrister who has a specialism in this area, so that they can advise further and present the way forward.
Letter of claim and response
Having obtained all of the appropriate evidence for your case, your lawyer will prepare a ‘letter of claim’ to the person or organisation identified as the appropriate defendant.
The defendant is then allowed a three-week period to acknowledge receipt of your letter and a further three months to investigation your claim.
Unfortunately, many (if not most) defendants will argue that they are not to blame. Whilst they can rely on various defences the most common in this area of law is ‘limitation’.
Generally, a compensation claim must be brought within three years of the abuse taking place. A child will have until the date of their 21st birthday to bring a claim. The courts do have flexibility to disapply this rule but there must be good reasons for the delay in bringing the claim.
This is where you will benefit from engaging a lawyer who has the requisite skill and expertise in this field as they will be able to formulate effective arguments that may persuade the court to allow your claim to proceed.
Medical and other expert evidence
During the course of your claim, evidence will be obtained from an appropriate medical expert. You will be asked to meet with the expert who will prepare a detailed report dealing with the background to your claim and the psychological impact of the abuse on you.
The expert will also make recommendations as to appropriate therapy and treatment. He or she will comment on the impact of the abuse on your personal life, academic achievements and working life. Your lawyer will discuss the report with you and help you to access any recommended therapy as soon as possible if not already in place.
This report is a very important document in your claim as it will assist your lawyer and the courts to decide on the appropriate level of damages you should be awarded if successful in your claim.
Your lawyer will prepare a schedule of your financial losses. These will include (but not limited to) any past and future loss of earnings, treatment costs and any other expenses you may have incurred or are likely to incur. Your lawyer will then send the medical evidence and details of your financial losses to the defendant and either make or invite an offer of settlement.
If the defendant makes you an offer your lawyer will advise you as to whether they believe it is an appropriate settlement.
Your lawyer may decide that this is a relevant time to return to your barrister for their advice. Your barrister may advise acceptance of the offer or suggest an appropriate counter offer.
Your lawyer will enter into negotiations with the defendant. It is hoped that this will conclude in an outcome that is satisfactory to you and your case will then be settled.
If you are on benefits, your lawyer will advise you on how to protect them by setting up of a personal injury trust and will signpost you to a lawyer who can assist you with this. Whilst this may sound complicated it is a relatively straightforward process.
It is fair to say that only a small minority of cases conclude at court. However, if the defendant is not willing to settle your case or you cannot agree on the appropriate level of compensation it will be necessary to register your claim at court.
The court will then set a timetable of steps to be taken, concluding in a court hearing date.
These steps typically include the disclosure of all relevant documents by both parties and the exchange of expert evidence and witness statements. Your lawyer will continue to attempt settlement of your case. At trial, you will be represented by your barrister and a judge will decide on the final outcome. You will be fully supported by your lawyer who will understand how daunting attending court can be for their clients.
As previously stated, the above is simply a guide. Hopefully it has provided some useful information about making compensation claims and answered some of the questions that commonly arise.
Your lawyer will be pleased to answer any further questions you may have and will do all they can to help you through this process.