This month Angela Fitzpatrick, a Solicitor and MASS Regional Co-ordinator for Central West, considers the importance of rehabilitation following injury.
The purpose of the personal injury claims process is to put the individual back into the same position as he or she would have been in had the incident not occurred, in so far as money can achieve that objective. It is well established that the earlier an injured person gets treatment the better chance they have of making a full, or fuller, recovery.
The Rehabilitation Code (the Code) has been around for a number of years and in 2015 it was updated. MASS was represented in the working party that drafted the 2015 Code.
The Code provides an approved framework for injury claims and, whilst the Code is voluntary, the Personal Injury Pre-action Protocol provides that its use should be considered for all types of personal injury claims. The object is to ensure that those injured receive the rehabilitation they need to restore quality of life as soon and as much as possible. The objectives apply to low value (£25,000 or less) and more serious injuries but recognise the significant differences between the handling of lower value injuries and medium or catastrophic injuries. Separate processes are provided for claims below £25,000 and also for soft tissue injury cases (as defined by the Pre-action Protocol for Low Value Personal Injury Claims in Road Traffic Accidents) and those involving medium, severe and catastrophic injuries. However, it is important to understand that even low value injuries can be life changing for some people and the monetary value of a claim should only be a guide as to rehabilitation needs and each individual should considered on their own particular needs.
The duty to act in the best interests of the client is emphasised with Section 2.1 of The Code providing:
“The claimant solicitor’s obligation to act in the best interest of their client extends beyond securing reasonable financial compensation, vital as that may be. Their duty also includes considering, as soon as practicable, whether additional medical or rehabilitative intervention would improve the claimant’s present and/or longer term physical and mental well-being. In doing so, there should be full consultation with the Claimant and/or their family and any treating practitioner where doing so is proportionate and reasonable. This duty continues throughout the life of the case, but is most important at the early stages.”
A well designed rehabilitation programme will ensure that your client feels they are moving in the right direction and you will see your client making progress and have evidence to support financial claims. To be effective the rehabilitation plan should include clear and realistic SMART goals with steps to help the client progress towards them with regular monitoring to assess progress and clear review stages. It should also be remembered that rehabilitation covers not just physical and psychological therapies but also vocational rehabilitation which is crucial and should not be forgotten about in any case. Effective vocational rehabilitation focuses on having a place in the work place that is defined by ability not disability. In a society where we are often defined by our occupation it can have significant setback on an individual’s progress and mental wellbeing not to consider vocational rehabilitation.
Skill and knowledge is required when considering issues concerning rehabilitation. Consider whether all of your team know what the Rehabilitation Code is, have they read it? Do they understand rehabilitation starts at the beginning not the end of a case? Review training needs and incorporate ongoing training on rehabilitation into your injury team training schedule.
Early engagement of both your client and the insurers at the earliest opportunity is key. If funding under the Code is not agreed or suitable for your clients circumstances consider having effective systems in place to trigger prompt formal court applications, in suitable cases, where a voluntary interim is unreasonable refused.
It can be all too easy to get lost in contentious litigation issues and completely forget or neglect rehabilitation. It is not just about the money, it’s about restoring lives, so make a real difference, put REHAB at the forefront of your personal injury practice in 2018 and onwards.