We gladly invite you to our office for an exploratory talk, free of charge. Just drop in and we will discuss you case and its opportunities. To facilitate discussion, we offer here a few answers to frequently asked questions.
You may find yourself facing extraordinary challenges and confusing choices. You must recover your health and may not be able to work for an extended period of time, and yet you have many bills to pay. Good and reliable legal aid is of crucial importance. We can advise you, and our initial advice is always free of charge and without any obligation. When we start working on your case, we not only ensure that your case will be dealt with professionally but also try to assume a lot of your paperwork and other burdens.
You will only receive compensation if somebody admits liability. The first step is to hold a person or organisation liable and ensure that the counter-party acknowledges the claim. Generally, the liable party has insurance and his insurer will pay your compensation. Good legal groundwork will often force the liable party to admit liability. If the counter-party refuses, however, a lawsuit must settle the disagreement.
Medical information is of vital importance in any personal injury case. Once liability is acknowledged by the counter-party, we will collect full medical information about your case and evaluate it in close cooperation with our medical advisor. The information will help us assertain the extent of your injuries and necessary treatments. The liable party (in most cases an insurance company) will then submit the data to their own medical advisor. In the final stage of the process, you will very likely be asked to undergo an examination by an independent physician (called a medical expertise), who will answer all questions essential to your claim. This examination will only take place once your own doctor declares that your medical condition has stabilized.
After the extent of your injury has been determined, it is important to evaluate its impact, not only on your ability to work but on your home life. We will pay you a visit at home to assess the situation, prepare an overview of the financial consequences of the accident, and ensure an adequate preliminary payment. After you have recuperated, your work and home life have stabilized, and you have been reintegrated into your normal life as much as possible, we will be able to ascertain the lasting consequences of your injury and calculate the correct final compensation due to you.
Pain and loss of quality of life cannot be compensated. However, a financial compensation can give some consolation and relief. The level of compensation depends on personal circumstances: how serious are injuries, physical disfiguration, or new physical limitations? Age also makes a difference. (The younger the person and the worse the injury, the higher the compensation will be.)
There is no provision for pecuniary damage in the Dutch legal system (unlike in the United States).
The victim has to provide evidence of damage. It is important to retain all supporting documents, such as bills, receipts of payments, salary statements, annual statements, tax returns, and any other relevant financial information.
Relatives may claim compensation when a loved one dies in an accident. The compensation for relatives is limited to two items: funeral expenses; and loss of income if the deceased person was the sole earner or made a major contribution to the family’s income. Loss may be claimed by a non-relative if he or she lived with and was financially supported (either entirely or in greater part) by the victim. Compensation may also be awarded to cover the victim’s contribution to housekeeping.
First, your body needs to recover and the full medical consequenses of your injury must become clear; both of these things take time. We must also determine the impact of your injury on your private and professional life, which may not be immediately evident. Please bear in mind that it takes some years to settle a personal injury case—two to three years is average, based on our experience.
Because a personal injury case requires legal knowledge and involves many parties, it is important that somebody represent you in both word and deed. A legal professional will know what claims are allowable; can advise you about realistic approaches to a case; and can help you reach a settlement within a reasonable period of time. The stress and grief of enduring an injury or losing a loved one in an accident can be powerful, even overwhelming. Having a professional who knows his or her way around the legal field will help ease your worries, financial and otherwise.
If the counter-party or the insurance company refuses to admit liability, we will advise you about the chances of your case in court. If the case is simple, the court will very likely reach a swift decision. However, if the parties disagree about actual and relevant facts of the accident, we will need to gather official statements by witnesses and experts. In some instances, a full examination of the substance of a case may even accelarate the proceedings.
The parties begin by exchanging legal documents that lay out their points-of-view. A judge will then order both parties to appear in court in person. In no-win situations, the judge will often give an interim judgement while court is in session, and the parties may try to reach an amicable settlement. Unfortunately, the judge may not reach a swift decision in cases that are particularly complicated. Such cases can be referred to a higher court, such as the Supreme Court.
Costs depend on a variety of situations:
Before anybody else admits liability, the legal costs are your responsibility and are paid by you. However, the moment another party acknowledges liability a special arrangement becomes applicable: the liable party is obliged to pay for your (reasonable) extralegal fees, and is often willing to pay your lawyer directly (this can be negotiated by your lawyer).
If you are partly to blame for the accident, you may still have to pay a portion of the fee. -During the negotiating process, it may be necessary to bring only part of a dispute before a judge. The liable party will pay the legal fees in such a case, even if the judge decides against you. However, if the partial dispute is about your liablility, then you are obliged to pay your own legal fees.
If a full court case is necessary, compensation for your extra legal fees does not apply. A full court case is sometimes the only way for a client to pursue his or her rights. If you want to submit your personal injury case to its full extent, we will have to enter into proceedings on the merits of the case. The legal costs of these proceedings are to be paid by you. At the end of the proceedings, the judge decides whether the liable party is obliged to pay for some portion of the counter-party’s legal fees; but there are no fixed tariffs and such payments almost never cover the total costs of the proceedings.
Since January 1, 2014, the Dutch legal system has begun to experiment with allowing contingency fees for litigation in personal injury cases (a no win-no pay system that is clearly defined to prevent unreasonable fees). We can discuss the merits of this option for you when we examine your case.
If you have legal aid insurance, report to your insurer as soon as possible. Most policy conditions provide for dispute settlement. The insurance company generally takes initial steps for you in your case. If you prefer to hire your own lawyer, you must consult your insurer to see if the company is willing to cover your legal fees (since they would in effect be outsourcing the case to an external lawyer). Should your insurer take too long to respond to your case, inform them that you have set a deadline to receive an answer from them. If the deadline is not met, write a letter to the management. If that does not produce a result, you have recourse to an official commission that settles such disputes. In such cases, you may be allowed to seek the assistance of an independent lawyer. You could also file a complaint with the Dutch Complaints Authority (www.KiFiD.nl), which gives objective, independent, and professional judgements.
Legal aid paid by the Dutch Government may be possible. If you want to apply for governmental legal aid, your income and equity must be below a certain level (see www.rvr.org, which will inform you if you are entitled to a subsidy). Your lawyer can submit an application to the the Legal Aid Council for you. The Council will primarily focus on your income and equity over the past two years, and will examine information from the tax authorities. Please bear in mind that if the Council finds that you are entitled to subsidized legal fees, you will also be required to contribute (the amounts will be determined by the Council). Also, the subsidy will not cover all the costs for which you are responsible, including medical counselors’ fees and Court Registry fees.
You are not entitled to the subsidy if a party acknowledges liability because the counterparty is obliged to pay for your legal assistance. Neither are you eligible for governmental legal aid if you receive a considerable amount legal insurance.
The Dutch government intends to make drastic cuts in governmental legal aid in the future. Please make sure you are fully informed of the latest changes to the law before you file your application.
A claims representative is often hired by an insurance company to evaluate your claim. Both the claims representative and your lawyer will visit you at home (often more than once if the injury is very serious). Your lawyer will discuss with the claims representative the level of compensation your case requires. The claims representative reports to the insurer, determines how much should be paid to you in advance, and what the final financial settlement should be.
If your ability to work is affected by your injury, a labour expert will talk to you, your employer, and your doctor to evaluate your condition and make recommendations about rehabilitation, adaptations at your place of work, the use of auxiliary devices that might assist you, and, if necessary, any retraining you would require before returning to work (all of which would be paid for by the liable party). The labour expert tries to find the right balance between the physical demands of your job and your reduced physical capability. If we act as your lawyers, we would assist you in finding a highly competent labour expert.
As a result of your injury, you may find that you cannot sit for long periods of time or that you cannot bathe yourself independently anymore. An occupational therapist helps determine what auxiliary devices might make your life easier and more bearable. We engage highly experienced professionals in this field and we make sure that their bills are paid by the insurer of the liable party.
A care manager can help coordinate all the different professionals and organizations—from your physicians and therapists, the claims representative or representatives, and your personal injury lawyer, to the the Public Employment Service (Uitvoeringsorgaan Werknemers Verzekeringen or UWV)—that are involved in your case. We can recommend excellent care managers (also known as rehabilitation coaches) who are experts in their field.
An accountant will calculate how much future financial loss you will face and make a detailed calculation that is used in the compensation settlement. The accountant will assess among other things how your career would have developed without the accident, and will compare lost future earnings with your current financial situation. In a personal injury case the accountant often works for both parties.
Your injury case can only be fully assessed when your medical treatment is completed and you have reached the final medical stage. The liable party will advance you payment against the final settlement for as long as you are being treated by a physician. Your lawyer will negotiate with the insurer the advance payments you will receive, based on a well-documented damage-statement.
When the full impact of your injury on your life and work are clearly determined, your lawyers will help you obtain a final payment. The final payment will help enable you to live as closely as possible to your former life or will enable some other appropriate solution. In major cases, the accoutant we hire specializes in calculating the damage you have suffered due to loss of capacity for work.
Once a final agreement has been reached you will sign a contract, called a settlement agreement, that indicates your full satisfaction with it and your abandonment of further claims on the liable party. We will advise you in detail before you sign the settlement.
The payment you will receive will be considered a net payment by the Dutch tax authorities. The lump sum and/or advance payments are not considered part of your taxable income. However, if the payment is a substantial amount, you will have to pay 1.2% equity tax. We suggest that you consult your tax accountant before submitting your tax return.