Coroner's Inquests And Personal Injury Claims
A personal injury claim will only succeed if negligence or breach of duty can be proven, whereas the key task for the Coroner at an Inquest is to establish the cause of death, and not necessarily to direct blame.
The Inquest process can still be a valuable source of information to the personal injury claimant or defendant, whether the accidental death relates to an accident at work, a road traffic accident or any other health and safety scenario.
An Inquest is led by a Coroner who is guided by the Coroner's (Inquests) Rules 2013. The rules dictate when to open an Inquest, how to conduct pre-Inquest review hearings, and the timing of an Inquest, as well as notifying relatives of the deceased and any "other interested persons" of the date of the Inquest.
An "interested person" could include the deceased's employer, the owner of any land where the fatal accident occurred, or the driver of a vehicle involved in a collision.
The Coroner's decision is now called a "Conclusion" and will be set out as a "Record of the Inquest". Whilst the Coroner's conclusion does not guarantee an outcome in relation to a personal injury claim, it will assist as because the Coroner will need to make a "determination" on the following issues:
- Who the deceased was
- When the deceased came about his or her death
- Where the deceased died
- How he or she died
The Coroner is also under a duty to report on any actions he or she feels might prevent future deaths, and this duty arises at any time during the Coroner's investigation i.e. he can file a report even if no Inquest takes place.
Although the Rules provide that a Coroner must "complete" an Inquest within six months from the date the Coroner is made aware of the death, in reality this is rarely achievable. In our experience Inquests can take up to a year or more to take place, particularly if the Coroner needs to make further enquiries with medical experts or the Police.
When we act for clients who are connected with a fatal accident, we write to the Coroner and ask if our client can become an "interested person". This ensures that we are kept informed of developments leading up to the Inquest and, most importantly, are able to attend the Inquest to make representations or question witnesses.
Another important reason to be recognised as "interested person" is to gain access to the Coroner's papers prior to the Inquest, including pathologist's reports, witness statements and Police Reports.
If the Police are investigating a potential manslaughter or gross negligence charge, an Inquest may be opened and then immediately adjourned until this investigation is concluded. The HSE can postpone any decision to prosecute until after the outcome of an Inquest.
Inquests are public hearings and will normally take place in either a court room or other appropriate space, such as a Town Hall or other civic building.
The new Rules emphasise that Inquests must be held without a Jury, except in limited circumstances. The Coroner also holds the power to call a Jury if he or she believes there is "sufficient reason".
Legal aid is not available to interested parties except in "exceptional circumstances" and where applicants qualify financially. For example, if the circumstances of the death suggest a significant wider public interest.
Ashfords LLP can provide support and assistance to relatives of the deceased person or any "interested persons" who feel that they need advice about and/or representation at an Inquest.
Ashfords' Personal Injury Team has extensive experience in all areas of personal injury claims work. If you would like to discuss a personal injury claim and the funding options available to you, please contact Gemma Rowe on 01392 334017 for a free, no-obligation chat.