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Invisible injuries – compensation claims barriers

6 August 2020

Adrian Denson, chief legal officer at Fletchers Serious Injury, outlines what must be considered when supporting individuals through a claim for a ‘hidden’ injury and how best to support their lives moving forward.

A serious injury puts a great deal of strain on the person involved. The effects are far-reaching; also touching the family and friends of the injured party, who are in some ways just as impacted by the accident. Firstly, there are the physical aspects; the effects of a severed spinal cord or an amputated limb are clear to see. But the invisible traumas can be just as damaging, and in many cases, these are harder to see, harder to treat and harder to adapt to.

The research carried out recently by Fletchers Serious Injury indicates that nearly a fifth of those with invisible injuries (18.8%), such as cognitive defects resulting from a brain injury, believe that their condition is not as serious as a visible injury. And because the injury is not physically visible, more than a fifth of respondents (21.9%) believe that people do not understand the invisible barriers they are coming up against each day. This is a worrying statistic, and one that must be addressed by lawyers who act in this field, to provide reassurance to those who want to seek help following their injury but are unsure of the validity of their case.

The emotional burden

With many types of serious injury, such as complex orthopedic injuries, spinal cord injuries or amputation, the physical devastation is clear and obvious. But, the emotional burden can be incredibly traumatic for the individual and sometimes just as debilitating and long-lasting. As well as coping with the devastation of the injuries themselves, the person must adapt many aspects of their life following an injury; sometimes forced to learn to walk again or use a wheelchair, to face lengthy periods of rehabilitation and even adapting their living accommodation or moving altogether in order to suit their changed needs. Coming to terms with all of this places huge emotional and psychological stress upon individuals and their families.

Unfortunately, our clients often also suffer other ‘invisible’ effects of these injuries, such as PTSD and other psychological injuries that can be extremely debilitating and have far reaching consequences.

And sometimes, the physical injuries may not have been so severe, but the psychological effects of the accident can still cause lasting pain and anguish. Our research shows that over one in eight people with ‘invisible’ injuries (12.3%) have not sought treatment because their condition is not immediately visible and therefore, feel more reluctance to claim than if they had a physical injury.

It is important to stress that all injuries are valid. Other long term and less visible conditions that result from personal injuries sustained in an accident, such as chronic pain or fibromyalgia, have the potential to ruin lives and must be taken seriously so that the person can receive the correct diagnosis and treatment. Again, people often suffer in silence or are accused of having ‘nothing wrong with them’.

A life that is never truly the same

Sometimes there is a serious physical injury, but it is less obvious and often difficult for others to see.

This could include a serious head injury where the outward physical injury often heals long before the extremely grave long-term effects that can result from the damage to the brain.

These neurological injuries can be life-changing and life-long, but are often invisible to others and can even be misunderstood; many people with brain injuries have experienced hostility from people who assume they are under the influence of drink or drugs, for example.

One client who suffered a serious motorbike accident,explains that in the aftermath she struggled to follow simple television storylines, and would forget information almost instantly. She also highlights a very important point; that to those around her she would appear ‘well’ moment to moment.

It is this outward appearance that we should all be sensitive to. Both as legal professionals, working with seriously injured individuals to understand the impact this accident has had on their lives, and as the wider friends and family who may be struggling to adapt and support their loved one in the right way. A skilled serious injury lawyer will always be alive to the potential invisible effects of an injury as well as the more obvious visible ones, and will ensure that the right experts are instructed and all necessary evidence is obtained in order to inform the required rehabilitation package and ensure that the case is settled appropriately.

People who experience serious injuries often suffer ongoing repercussions such as chronic pain, cognitive impairments and psychological trauma. But there are other ‘invisible’ implications that are just as damaging to the individual. With any serious injury, there comes with it an extensive recovery time; often resulting in the injured party being unable to work for some time. This consequently presents a loss of earnings that impacts the individual in more complex ways – falling behind on payments, mounting up debts and potentially impacting their position on applying for credit.

All of these factors are considered when processing a serious injury claim; assessing far beyond the physical injury and into the wider reaching implications. It is important for those suffering the invisible consequences of a serious injury to understand that every aspect of their experience is taken into consideration when processing a compensation claim. And it is the responsibility of the legal profession to ensure that this message is shared loud and clear; so that those desperately seeking physical, emotional and financial support, are able to secure it.

 

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