Don’t give up the right to choose your lawyer – Jodi Gordon

Make sure you have the correct person with specialist expertise fighting your corner, says Jodi Gordon

Legal expenses cover will not necessarily provide claimants such as cyclists with the specialist help they need. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

Every day we make choices, big and small, for ourselves. As personal injury lawyers, we represent people at arguably the lowest point in their lives but that should not take away their ability to make decisions that best suit their needs.

Following the recent decision in London where a pedestrian, Gemma Brushett successfully recovered damages from a cyclist, Robert Hazeldean, there has been a push for those cycling on a regular basis to consider insurance options.

Sign up to our Opinion newsletter

Sign up to our Opinion newsletter

From a risk point of view, cyclists predominantly want third party cover to provide financial protection should they find themselves in Mr Hazeldean’s position of having to pay a large award of damages and legal costs following a successful third-party claim. However, incidents of cyclists colliding with pedestrians are thankfully rare and as such, insurance is rightly not compulsory for cyclists. Individuals with home contents insurance will often have public liability built into that policy so it’s worth checking as it may cover you whilst cycling. More cycling specific options are available including membership with British Cycling or Cycling UK.

Jodi Gordon, Partner, Cycle Law Scotland

The point of third-party insurance is to insure against a risk that you cause injury to another road user through your own fault or negligence. Having cover in place allows the injured party to claim against your insurer for his or her losses. It’s compulsory to have third-party cover for using a motorised vehicle as the risk you pose to others in operating that vehicle is high. Generally, cyclists are a low risk to other road users and third-party insurance premiums reflect that low risk.

If, however, you’re involved in a non-fault incident, no such cover is required. You are the party who has suffered loss and, as such, you need to recover that loss from the insurer of the party at fault. This will require the instruction of a lawyer. Insurance companies offering third party cover will often include an “add-on” of “legal expenses cover”, but what does this actually provide? More often than not, insurance companies appoint panel solicitors to whom they refer their policyholders in the event they have sustained loss through a non-fault incident.

Is it the role of an insurer to appoint a legal representative for a policyholder who has been injured through no fault of their own? There may be financial benefits to the insurer but what of the policyholder. Choice of legal representation is for an individual who has suffered loss. Most personal injury lawyers act on a speculative or “no win no fee” basis and have done so for over a century. It is correct that many lawyers will charge a fee on success and a panel solicitor appointed by an insurer will seek to recover their fee from the losing side. However, there is more to an injury claim than an award of damages.

In so many other areas of our lives, we entrust specialists over general practitioners. The law is no different. Many PI lawyers choose a particular area of practice within their specialist field such as professional negligence, industrial disease, accident at work or road traffic accident. The advantage to the consumer is choice. Choice to instruct a lawyer based on reputation, experience and speciality. That choice is an important one. It’s not a decision that should be made for you by any insurer. Choosing the right personal injury solicitor involves research and asking an important a series of questions; does my lawyer have experience in my type of case? Do they have an interest in me as an individual or am I just part of a process? Do they understand the mechanics of my incident? Do they understand the impact of my injury?

As an injured person, you only have one opportunity to claim and so you should make sure you have the correct person fighting your corner – a specialist lawyer equipped with the requisite knowledge and expertise. The best way to secure such a lawyer is to retain that choice and instruct your own.

Jodi Gordon, Partner, Cycle Law Scotland