Most car insurance accident claims that can not be resolved through negotiation between both parties insurance companies or their attorneys or lawyers, will end up in court. It is therefore, vitally important that your car insurance covers you for legal expenses protection.
Legal Expenses covers all your legal bills, damages and costs awarded against you should have a car accident. Legal expenses is often sold as an add on, and if you have not purchased this protection, it may cost you dear if an accident claim applies all the way to court, even if you win!
Car Insurance Claims
A car insurance policy is a legally binding contract between yourself and an insurance company to cover your liability, and in the United Kingdom claims for damages or liability disputes under an insurance policy contract, are resolved in the Civil or County Court as it is known. All cases are held before a District or County Circuit Judge.
Most disputes involving amounts fewer than five thousand pounds are known as small claims or fast track claims and can be deal with quickly in a less informal setting. Claims on car insurance policies that include damages for personal injury for example, are likely to involve large amounts and sometimes legal costs of up to ten times the amount of the claim. These claims are associated to a multi-track court system where cases are heard in full court.
If your claim, or the claim you are defending proceeds to court, both parties will be asked before the event to provide dates that they are unavailable to attend upon.
Each solicitor or lawyer will inform his party in appropriate time of the date and venue of the court hearing. They will also keep their clients fully briefed as to the progress and developments in the case.
Many disputes that involve claims on car insurance policies are settled at the eleventh hour by the car insurance companies agreeing to settle, however whether a claimant or a defender in the case you should be prepared for court. Both parties are required by law to attend the hearing and risk due of court charges if they fail to show.
Going To Court
The hearing will always be held in the County Court near to the home of the defender. That is, the person who denies the claim against him. This can be cost if as a claimant you have to travel hundreds of miles to attend the court. UK Courts are notoriously mean with their expenses and if you drive a gas guzzler you will be lucky if you are awarded a fifth of your actual petrol costs as claimable travel expenses, if you win.
Furthermore you will not be able to claim for the inconvenience of the case, childcare costs or loss of earnings. Whatever the original car accident was your fault or not, as soon as you became involved in an accident the largest damage is to your pocket.
You will have been asked at at least one occasion by your lawyer or solicitor, during prior negotiations, to provide a statement of fact of your version of the events that took place.
This statement will contain the facts that you will rely on when asked to speak in court. It will also contain the information that you will be cross-examined on by the other party's lawyers. It is important when you make a statement to stick to the facts, tell the truth of what happened and use documentary evidence such as photos or videos that you took at the time of the accident, to back up your version of events.
Stick to your version of events and do not be over flowery when creating your statement. The opposition will drill down into any inconsistencies that you may introduce into your account, by being over zealous. Their aim is to show you up to be either a liar or someone who can not be trusted, whether you are telling the truth or not. The accomplishment of trials, the judiciary, despite wholly unfair, is often determined by the manner of the parties involved and how they acted throughout the case, as the hammer has come down on one side or the other.
Small claims cases rarely last more than a few hours and are held in much more informal settings than the main courtroom with its bench and stands and gallery. The hearings usually take place in a small room or chambers in the Court building.
Unlike in the main courtroom neither the Judge nor Barristers if present, are obliged to wear the wigs and gowns. There is usually no court recorder present and the protocol rules for addressing the bench are much more informal than in a main courtroom, although one should apply courtesy and respect at all times if you wish to succeed in your claim.
Large claims or multi-track claims as they are known are set when the amounts of damages in dispute and the legal costs on both sides exceeded the limits for the small claims court.
In a full hearing, only barristers are allowed to address the bench, although witnesses are often called to speak and explain a point directly to the Judge. In doing so you are required to address the Judge as 'Your Honor'.
Court hearings can be daunting experiences even for the most outgoing going people. Courtrooms are very busy places. In a full court hearing there will be legal teams from both parties on separate sides of the room. They will be assisted by expert witnesses. There is always a public gallery and the Press may well be present, in particular hacks from local newspapers. There will be Court Reporters and a Stenographer recording the details of what is said and Ushers controlling the flow of witnesses. There will be a witness box where you are obliged to take the stand, give an oath on a religious document of your choice, and then be cross-examined on the contents of your statement.
Under Court Procedure Rules (CPR) in the United Kingdom the onus of any trial is on the claimant and any accident witnesses he may have, to take the stand first.
If you are the claimant be prepared to take the stand in the witness box on the first day of the trial. You will be cross-examined first by the other party's barrister and then by your own to give your story. Through the Judge will be making their own notes.
You are not allowed to give speeches of your version of events of the car accident. You are only allowed to speak in answer to a particular question that is put to you.
In a full hearing you will be cross-examined first by the other party's barrister who will try to destroy your evidence. Be prepared for personal attacks and dirty tricks to try to get you to say something different to what you claimed in your statement. Above all keep calm, stop and think about what you are going to say, and if necessary you are perfectly entitled to refer to your statement. Your Barrister will then cross-examine you to try to establish the points in your favor, and discredit any flack you may have suffered under the previous cross-examination.
Following your evidence the defense party will go through the same procedure. Expert witnesses may well then be called for both sides. Typically these may be motor engineers or claims assessors.
In a full hearing the events are drawn to a close by a summary from both parties barristers and a plea to the bench to find in their favor. The Judge then retires to consider the verdict or judgment as it is known in the UK civil proceedings. Quite often this may not be delivered until the next day.
Costs of a Car Insurance Accident
Immediately following the verdict it is quite common to have a costs assessment hearing, where costs are awarded. Costs in a multi track case in the UK that lasts a week, are on average for both parties in excess of one hundred thousand pounds.
Even if you win the judge may only award a proportion of costs in your favor. There are rules governing behavior of both parties throughout the case and offers known as 'part 36 offers' give some indemnity against full costs sometimes being awarded.
Accidents can cost a lot more than expected and it is important that you have adequate legal expenses protection included in your policy cover. If you do not, that cheap car insurance policy could very soon turn into fools gold.