Joanne is a solicitor in the serious injury team based in Irwin Mitchell’s Sheffield office
What is serious injury?
Serious injury work involves complex and often high-value litigation. These cases are sometimes referred to as ‘catastrophic injury’ cases, because the injury can be sudden and very severe.
The injury types which commonly fall into this category are head and brain injury, spinal cord injury, serious broken bones (orthopaedic), fatal accidents, amputation and chronic pain cases. These cases are hugely traumatic, and have life-changing consequences. They often cause enormous stress and disruption to the lives of the sufferer and their loved ones.
Serious injury work is diverse and challenging, because the injury could arise from any circumstance. Examples include road traffic collisions, falls from height, accidents at work, military accidents and accidents in public places. This means getting to grips with several areas of law. It also means that no two cases are ever the same!
What are the clients like?
Each case and the needs of every client are different. A serious head injury case can leave clients with lasting damage to the brain. This can mean problems with memory, concentration and attention. Difficulties with movement, balance and speech can occur. Changes in personality are also common, and these difficulties can lead to a huge strain on their ability to work, their quality of life and maintaining relationships.
Spinal cord injury clients can suffer with a range of difficulties following an accident. Examples include a loss of function of arms and/or legs. It can also mean a lack of control of the bladder and bowels, loss of sexual function, spasms and pain. These particular clients may require lifelong care support, aids and equipment (such as wheelchairs), transport needs and accommodation specifically adapted to meet their needs.
What key skills are needed to work in serious injury?
At Irwin Mitchell, we hold five key values – pioneering, approachable, tenacious, integrity and efficiency. We are encouraged to ‘live’ these values and behaviours daily. In serious injury law, we need to be approachable, understanding and patient with our clients, recognising their life-changing injuries and the impact of this. We need to work efficiently yet thoroughly, acting with integrity. Being tenacious and pioneering in your approach to these cases will be important. We need to formulate very practical solutions to everyday problems and case complexities. Being able to ‘problem solve’ is an incredibly valuable skill.
What are the common misconceptions about serious injury work?
One of the biggest misconceptions is that serious injury work involves no indemnity (insurance) or liability (fault) disputes. There is a presumption that the work is all quantum (damages valuation). This is untrue. We employ a collision investigation unit, which is made up of retired police officers with a specialist background in road traffic policing and investigations, to assist with our liability investigations. As part of these enquiries, we often attend criminal court hearings.
Given the potential value of many serious injury cases, indemnity and liability are often disputed. Even a small deduction for contributory negligence on the part of a claimant can result in substantial savings for defendant insurers.
Why is rehabilitation so important?
Rehabilitation makes a huge difference to the lives of our clients. Early rehabilitation is important to maximise a client’s recovery, promote independence wherever possible and to gain the best quality of life while living with their injuries.
We obtain interim payments (part payment on account of compensation in advance of settlement) from defendants as early as possible. This can facilitate private rehabilitation from a range of specialists including case managers, speech and language therapists, physiotherapists, neuropsychologists, occupational therapists and care support workers. For many clients, rehabilitation gives them the independence they lost because of their injuries.
Why serious injury at Irwin Mitchell in Sheffield?
Securing interim payments to help our clients in very practical ways is incredibly rewarding. Assisting with introductions to private rehabilitation providers, appointing a case manager, liaising with architects over housing adaptations and securing interim funding to pay for vital services are just a few examples.
We employ client liaison managers to assist our clients in the early stages of their recovery. During that time, the support and advice from these non-lawyers is extremely valuable. Our client liaison managers are clinical specialists, assisting our clients to be as independent as possible. They often make referrals to NHS and social services for increased support, work with local charities and support groups, and assist our clients with much-needed state benefits and debt management advice.
In the serious injury team at Irwin Mitchell in Sheffield, we can draw on the knowledge and expertise of our colleagues in other departments. Many clients require advice in family law and wills and probate. They may also need the specialist advice of other technical lawyers. For example, where a client lacks the mental capacity to manage their own financial affairs, the services of the Court of Protection are needed. Where we have concerns about the services provided by a local authority, our public law team is invaluable. Many clients also need specialist guidance and advice from financial advisors after settlement, which is a further service Irwin Mitchell can provide through its independent financial advisors, IM Asset Management.
What was my experience of training with Irwin Mitchell in Sheffield?
Sheffield is the birth place of Irwin Mitchell, and I was lucky enough
to join the Sheffield serious injury team as a paralegal. I began supporting several partners with their casework, and I worked closely
with the team to progress. I benefited from a lot of supervision, support and internal training. I worked hard and I managed to successfully apply for a training contract, having already completed my law degree. I then completed the LPC over two years, as I continued to work as a paralegal. This was incredibly tough, but well worth it when I managed to qualify as a solicitor.
The best bits?
Knowing that your work has made a real difference to your clients, to ensure that their future is secure is the best bit about the job. However, there are a few particular cases which spring to mind when I think about the great opportunities. I also had a fantastic opportunity as a trainee solicitor to co-ordinate a team tasked with preparing quantum trial bundles on a multi million-pound case. On that same case, I was given the rare opportunity of attending a contested court hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice in London.
Irwin Mitchell LLP
Irwin Mitchell is unique, both in its culture and its approach to law. Nationally acclaimed, with strong international capabilities, Irwin Mitchell is one of a few law firms to provide a diverse range of legal services to businesses and private individuals. It has a strong customer service culture and a high level of client retention.