COVID-19 Team Blog: Ann Allister
29 May 2020
6 minutes to read.
We’re proud of what our teams are achieving at Carpenters during the coronavirus pandemic. Written by colleagues across multiple divisions of the company, they hopefully provide a small insight into our continuing working practices and values as we all adjust to our new world.
Here is the seventh in the series from Serious Injury Technical Director, Ann Allister.
COVID-19 Impact on Serious Injury Cases
"The basic process for dealing with serious injury cases has remained largely unchanged during the coronavirus pandemic, but the crisis has certainly necessitated the adoption of new working procedures to cope with the realities of ongoing social distancing.
While numbers on the road have been substantially down - as low as 25% of normal levels at points during the lockdown – unfortunately both fatal and less serious accidents have still been occurring. As we gradually emerge out of a full lockdown, we can expect the number of accidents to increase as road usage begins to return to normal levels. The take home from the coronavirus pandemic is that consensual working with the defendant, courts and third parties is allowing the system to run smoothly and, in some instances, I do wonder if we will return to the old way of working as we are finding better and more efficient ways of working.
Protection of client’s health must be at the centre of how we deal with these vulnerable clients. Visiting in person is not an option if you are to protect clients from infection. For many clients and their families using video meetings is the safest way forward, and Zoom, WhatsApp or FaceTime have become the norm. The client gets to see you and feel reassured that you are putting their health first. In many ways video conferencing has advantages as following a head or serious injury, fatigue is often an issue. Calls are often scheduled over several video calls at the client’s convenience, rather than a two or three hour face-to-face meeting. It allows time for clients and families to reflect on what has been discussed and have questions answered.
Rehabilitation and getting the best outcome has always been central to all serious injury claims. Rehabilitation under the NHS has regrettably always been a postcode lottery.
Dr Andrew Bateman chair of UKABF commented “At UKABIF we have been lobbying for increased investment in rehabilitation services for many years. Although we were making progress, the importance of rehab to “add life to years” has become a topic for this next phase of COVID-19 recovery. Neurological consequences of COVID-19 are becoming apparent that are going to put added strain on an already stretched system. More than ever we are hoping to see coordinated improvement in rehabilitation services and use of the rehabilitation prescription to help survivors find the support that they need.”
We currently have clients discharged from hospital with no rehabilitation referral or prescription. The way that rehabilitation is delivered both privately and, on the NHS, will differ from Trust to Trust, but any rehabilitation is likely to be delivered remotely by telephone or video call for the foreseeable future once discharged from hospital.
Working consensually with insurers to get a proactive case manager and private rehabilitation is even more essential post Covid-19 to get a good outcome.
Case managers have put in place risk assessments with Covid-19 for each client and for many serious injury clients will be classed as “high risk vulnerable” that should be shielded with case management and rehabilitation delivered remotely to protect the client.
New issues have arisen as a result of the crisis, sourcing clients places in private neuro-rehabilitation units that are Covid-free and for others remotely delivered psychology, physiotherapy, OT and case management. The challenges to case managers and the legal team have been wide and varied with the additional pressures, clients’ family networks are suffering greater stress due to the pressures of self-isolating or coping with Covid-19. My colleagues and I have dealt with issues such as an escalation in alcohol misuse, suicide attempts, breakdown of relationships and homelessness. A good case manager and a proactive legal team can makes all the difference.
The following websites have helpful tools in delivering remote rehabilitation:
For Portal cases MedCo agreed that the ban on remote examinations could be lifted and this has helped deal with the current circumstances.
With serious injury cases we have found that most expert disciplines are happy to carry out examinations by videoconferencing. The exception seems to be neuro-psychology which requires testing. I was surprised and pleased to learn that even a neuro-ophthalmologist was able to offer a videoconference appointment in the first instant so progressing a case. Our experience is that reports, and appointments are happening sooner so removing some of the delay in waiting for cases. The BMA has provided helpful guidance to experts.
Joint settlement meetings
Joint settlement meetings and ADR are very much a part of serious injury litigation and this remains the same remotely. I have had experience of these by different remote mediums during the crisis. Using Zoom where there have been several meetings being conducted with relevant parties at the same time is probably my preferred medium, but I have also used telephone rather than video conference. What is evident is that the parties are coming more prepared, are having pre-conferences days in advance so that the issues are narrowed.
There is no doubt that the courts have been struggling with lower staff numbers and agency staff to keep on top of issuing cases. There are helpful schemes that firms can sign up to which will help to lift the burden. Onlinecivilmoneyclaims@justice.gov.uk, where up to 10 members of a firm can sign up to the digital pilot, is one of them. This allows you to issue the claim online with a PBA account and to then download and serve a sealed claim form.
For a High Court issue, if you have a PBA account many district registries confirm you can issue by e-file part 7 but will need to wait for the court to process the paperwork. Northampton CCMC have advised due to staffing issues that they will not accept e-file part 7 issue at present although this may be subject to change as it was due to “system limitations and reduced staff arrangements”.
The courts have amended the CPR to allow 56-day amendment to timetables by consent. We have found that the courts when sent a good consent order with a pre-amble that explains the difficulties will substantially amend the timetable and directions beyond 56 days.
For cases that are already budgeted, reports are obtained in the first instant using video conferencing and this will mean an application in due course to amend the budget if the expert seeks a face to face consultation at a later date. The early video conferencing and provisional reports helps to narrow the issues, make progress and for many cases to reach settlement. In costs budgets it is important to include as a contingency for transparency the likelihood of a further medical examination face to face for each expertise.
Hearings have in our experience been business as usual in the serious injury cases, except for trials. Judges and the Courts have assisted in many instances to ensure that the hearings go ahead. I have had several cost budgeting and approval hearings, and three High Court approvals all settled and listed since the start of the pandemic with approval taking place over videoconferencing or telephone, all with the litigation friend in attendance. There is no doubt that the courts are working with practitioners to ensure matters are progressed and, in return, they deserve our help in making their life easier. It is helpful to the court that bundles and documents submitted are filed as one continuous, paginated PDF rather than multiple documents.
Trials seems to be judge-dependant as to whether they go ahead with many courts taking the view that if one party disagrees with proceeding by video link then the hearing should be adjourned. Trials with multiple witnesses and experts are generally being listed for pre-trial review and being set for later dates.
The coronavirus pandemic has certainly presented new challenges to the way in which serious injury cases are managed, but by working together, agreeing new procedures and utilising the available technology, we can still put the Claimant first and find ways to assist that may even have some benefits.
About the author
Ann Allister - Serious Injury Technical Director
Ann Joined Carpenters Group back in 2003 and has experienced a wealth of change across the business. She has over 21 years’ experience in the industry and specialises in Serious Injury.
Ann is a Trustee of Headway Wirral, an accredited Law Society Personal Injury Panel member, is a Headway and UKABIF specialist brain injury panel solicitor and was the UK Acquired Brain Injury Forum Lawyer of the year 2015
Outside of work, Ann is a step-mum, Labrador Retriever dog breeder and she is also a sailor, having sailed on the Atlantic Ocean.