What’s the difference between personal injury law in the U.K. vs. the U.S.?

People who suffer an injury because of someone else’s action or inaction can seek damages through the civil court system, thanks to personal injury laws. “Damages” are a legal remedy to cover all losses from an accident or any other incident caused by another entity, either intentionally or as a result of negligence.

However, as in many legal fields, personal injury law differs across national borders. Law students and attorneys looking to study or work on either side of the Atlantic must be aware of the differences. Likewise, individuals looking to file a personal injury claim must understand the differences to obtain the necessary representation. 


Personal injury law 101

Let’s start by reviewing the incidents that are covered by personal law:

  • Accidents as the result of someone’s negligent behavior. The most common cases include vehicle accidents and medical malpractice.
  • Intentional acts to cause harm to another person. The most common cases include assault, battery, and abuse.
  • Defective products in which a component is ruled faulty or dangerous to use. These cases are known as product liability lawsuits.
  • Defamation by using false statements to cause injury or damage to the character of the person involved.

The main difference between the U.K. and U.S. injury law

Here’s a quick review of the differences between how the British and American legal systems apply personal injury law.

British legal companies abide by stricter advertising rules

For starters, personal injury lawyers in the U.K. face stricter advertising laws than their U.S. counterparts.

They are not allowed to approach clients directly. They are not allowed to use “scare tactics,” trying to influence potential clients into accepting them as attorneys, such as listing everything that could go wrong if they don’t hire them.

As a result of these restrictions, middle-man companies have appeared, advertising on television and in the press. Once a client contacts them, they sell that lead to an actual personal injury lawyer.

On the contrary, in the U.S., attorneys are allowed to display advertisements. Hence, you might see attorneys and legal offices displaying ads on the streets, social media, websites, TV, and more.


U.K. lawyers have a hierarchy

In the U.S., a personal injury attorney handles all cases with no hierarchy in place, but in the U.K., the cases an attorney has access to depend on their status.

In the U.K., there are barristers and solicitors. A barrister is a type of lawyer in common law jurisdictions specializing in courtroom advocacy and litigation. They tend to only work on high-value personal injury claims and where there may be a disputed liability factor. On the other hand, Solicitors tend to only work on lower-grade cases and have direct contact with the client.


Most injury law cases in the U.S. have juries, but most U.K. cases don’t

In both the U.K. and the U.S., personal injury cases tend to be settled in mediation. In the U.S., as high as 95% of individual injury cases are settled before trial.

But in cases where they are taken to court, U.S. cases have a trial by jury, while in the U.K., most cases will be handled by a judge with no jury. Noticeable British cases that make it to trial generally include some element of public interest, but most of them are resolved in a county court.

U.S. damages tend to be higher in value

There are two types of damages in personal injury law: general damages and special damages. General damages cover injuries suffered for which no exact dollar value can be calculated, such as fractured limbs. After all, you can’t quantify pain and suffering.

See example verdicts and settlements from Miami-based personal injury law firm, Panter, Panter & Sampedro.

Special damages cover injuries suffered for which an exact dollar can be attributed, and these damages tend to be higher in value than general ones.

For both types, American damages tend to go for higher values than British ones. One of the reasons could be the addition of juries to the trials, increasing the expense of the process. Additionally, American juries can make damage awards up to any limit in addition to recoverable punitive charges, setting the ceiling higher for damages.


In the U.K., witnesses do not provide depositions

In American law, a deposition is a witness’s sworn testimony provided outside the court. Lawyers use depositions to gather information as part of the discovery process and may use them at trial in some cases.

In the U.K., however, depositions are not used. There are witness statements, but they are written documents, while American depositions may be written or oral. Witness statements are generally not cross-examined, but they can be prosecuted if their statements are proven to be untrue.


Despite the differences, the general process is overall the same

There are many slight differences between American and British personal injury cases. Still, overall operations tend to be the same. The key differences lie in the widespread presence of a jury in American personal injury trials. Also, American damages have a higher ceiling, and the attorney hierarchy present in the U.K. is absent in the U.S.