Whilst lockdown reduced the number of vehicles on Britain’s roads, people continued to get killed and injured.
And personal injury solicitors have noted that there remained a high number of serious injury collisions, as empty roads saw speeds escalate.
In June it was revealed Police Scotland was one of three UK forced to catch motorists driving at more than 120mph during the pandemic.
Those that became victims of crashes during or just before the pandemic were faced with a set of challenges that could not have been foreseen and have had serious consequences for their recovery.
Our corporate partner RoadPeace’s survey of its legal panel members, has uncovered some serious challenges brought about by the pandemic.
Experience in hospital has been more traumatic
For seriously injured victims who have had to be in hospital during the pandemic, their experience is reported to have been much more frightening and alienating than it would otherwise have been.
Full PPE had to be worn by NHS staff, which has removed some of the human element of care. Equally many further surgeries that crash victims needed had been delayed; causing longer stays in hospital and longer recovery times.
What has also been very distressing for crash victims is the ban on visitors. The psychological impact of months in hospital without seeing friends and family is reported to be significant.
Scott Whyte, Managing Director at Watermans Solicitors, the sole Scottish corporate partner of RoadPeace, said: “Those who have been injured in road traffic accidents during lockdown face a terrifying level of uncertainty when it comes to rehabilitation and surgical procedures.
“Claimants are not receiving vital surgeries in a timely manner and for those in hospital it has been awful – they have not seen human faces for many months or family, which is obviously very distressing and isolating for victims.”
And victims who were bereaved long before the pandemic have been re-traumatised by lockdown.
RoadPeace members have said: “Normally I would’ve gone to see my friends when I was feeling particularly lonely after my husband died. Not having anywhere to go to and fill my day has been very difficult.”
“I feel completely alone. My daughter would usually help me with all the paperwork and legal issues around my husband’s death but she has health issues and is self-isolating. Now without any IT skills I’m having to do this on my own and I can’t cope.”
Criminal justice has been delayed
Due to social distancing measures, criminal courts and the Coroners Courts have not been open. This has led to cases being delayed for months on end. It has been estimated that trial backlogs in the magistrates’ courts increased by 41% between the beginning of March and the end of May; in the crown court, the estimated increase was 53%.
The impact on crash victims has been significant.
Scott continued: “One of the biggest impacts that lockdown has had is in substantial backlog of hundreds of cases that are being put on hold.
“This has had a significant impact on our clients who are having their access to justice delayed.
“In the majority of cases, these include losses which our clients have already incurred and now they face further delays in recovering these sums at a time when finances are tight for many people in the country.”
Accessing rehabilitation has been denied
Not only are some injured crash victims not receiving rehabilitation because civil claims are being pushed back due to the court backlog, those that do have the funds available are not getting the same treatment that they otherwise would have done.
And rehabilitation covers a lot of different therapies. Psychologists, councillors, physiotherapists and occupational therapists have all been unable to see victims.
Whilst adaptations have been made to hold therapies over video conferencing, there have been a number of types of rehabilitation which have not been possible to continue. NHS COVID-19 policies rendered it difficult to obtain hospital appointments, and private rehabilitation centres stopped accepting new clients.
This meant that the most seriously injured crash victims – those with severe brain injuries – were unable to access the rehabilitation they vitally need.
Marketing Manager Agata Myszkowska, who lives in Edinburgh, admits the pandemic had a negative impact on her recovery after she was seriously injured in a cycling crash last year.
“What I imagined being a simple and straightforward process has become a long and stressful experience. The worst is the uncertainty of what is to come. It has been almost a year since my accident, but I am still to receive a follow-up scan which is deemed a non-priority procedure by the NHS.
“I had suffered from a broken back and I am still experiencing pain and nerve damage symptoms, so this is obviously very concerning. I have been left to my own devices so to speak which had a negative impact on my wellbeing particularly at the start of the pandemic.
“The most the difficult part of recovering from the injury is the impact it has on your life as a whole, whilst your physical injuries will at some point subside and heal it’s the mental impact that stays with you for a long time if not forever.
“Overcoming anxieties related to the accident during COVID has been extremely difficult when you cannot access treatment, cannot see your family and friends, or do things which would normally help you recover.
people from COVID, however, I believe it’s legal and moral duty upon governments to ensure all patients have access to medical treatments they require.”
And whilst personal injury solicitors have adapted best they can to moving their work online, social distancing measures and a lack of human contact have proved how important it is to have a specialist, local solicitor.
Scott Whyte continued: “Watermans Solicitors act successfully for seriously injured clients across Scotland and we understand the importance of providing legal support to road crash victims and helping them get back on their feet after traumatic times.
“It is particularly important that claimants feel safe and supported by their personal injury solicitors at a time where it is needed most.”
RoadPeace, the national charity for road crash victims, has today launched its regional legal panel. Made up of vetted specialist personal injury solicitors, eligibility for a place on the panel has always been based on the strictest criteria. And as of today the panel has moved from a national structure, to a regional one.
The benefit of this has become all the more stark as crash victims feel the effects of COVID-19 and lockdown. Victims referred by RoadPeace to solicitors will be offered a regional firm, allowing for a more localised relationship with their lawyer.
Nick Simmons, RoadPeace CEO said: “COVID-19 has affected us all, but it has hit crash victims particularly hard. Delays in justice and accessing rehabilitation has been tough on crash victims. It has always been vital for victims to have a specialist personal injury firm representing them, and the RoadPeace legal panel is made up of such firms.
“What COVID-19 has shown us though is how human contact and a close relationship with your solicitor is vital, on top of expertise. We have this month changed our legal panel structure, so that victims who get referred to our solicitors through RoadPeace, will be offered a local firm in the first instance.”