Injury or illness in the USA compensation claims
This guide looks at what you need to know about making an injury or illness compensation claim in the USA.
Our panel of solicitors are no longer able to assist with compensation claims for accidents abroad.
All 3 main emergency services (police, ambulance and fire) may be contacted by dialling 911
Anyone referred to a medical facility for treatment should contact his insurance or medical assistance company promptly.
The USA has no national police force, instead policing is organised on a state and local basis. There are 40,000 separate forces with around half a million police officers.
Forces include city police, county police, transport police, sheriffs' departments, state police (state troopers) and highway forces such as the California Highway Patrol.
As individual municipal and county law enforcement agencies in the USA are responsible for designing their own uniforms, there is no universal form or pattern for American police uniforms. Municipal police uniforms are usually blue or black, while uniforms worn by sheriff's deputies are more often brown and khaki.
Our network of solicitors do not currently have the capacity to take on holiday-related injury and sickness claims outside the UK. It is recommended that you contact a personal injury specialist solicitor to discuss your options as soon as possible, as some jurisdictions have limitation dates of less than the three year limit that is standard in the UK.
Medical treatment in the USA can be expensive and there are no special arrangements for British visitors. It is important to ensure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad and repatriation.
"Good faith" payments
Some hospitals may ask non-US residents to pay a deposit or 'good faith' payment on admittance. Any requests for funds should be directed to your travel insurance provider in the first instance; only pay the hospital if advised to do so by the travel insurance company. Your level of medical care will not be affected while your claim is being processed.
I have a strong claim - why won't a solicitor take it on?
|Where did the incident occur?||Time Limit*|
|On a flight to or from the USA in a hotel, or during an pre-booked excursion or activity, and where the holiday was booked through a UK-based package tour operator||3 years|
|Injury or illness in the USA during a trip that was booked privately (not booked through a UK tour operator)||(varies between individual states)|
|Injury or illness during a privately-booked flight to or from an international airport, including:
*Please note, time limits for making a compensation claim in the United States vary from state to state. Calculate how long you have to make a claim here.
Road traffic accidents in the USA
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), six million car collisions occur in the USA annually, averaging one accident every 10 seconds. These accidents lead to three million injuries every year, two-thirds of which are permanent, and about 40,000 deaths. This is more than double the number of fatalities through RTAs per head of population than in the UK.
Unlike the UK where seat belt wearing in both front and rear seats is the law, only 33 states make front seatbelt wearing a primary law, and rear seatbelt wearing varies by state.
In addition 50,000 serious injuries and 2,300 deaths occur in motorcycle accidents every year. In most countries the use of helmets on powered two-wheelers is compulsory and the wearing rate is usually high, however in the USA there is no federal law on helmet use, and three states have no helmet law.
What to do if involved in a road accident in the States
Anyone involved in a road accident must stop immediately and if possible move the vehicle from the road, get out of the vehicle and stand away from it.
Take photographs of the accident scene if a camera is available or make a drawing showing the positions of all vehicles involved before moving them.
If the vehicle is causing an obstruction other drivers must be warned by use of hazard warning lights.
Where there is injury an ambulance must be called, and the fire service if someone is trapped or there is chemical or oil spillage. There are motorist aid call boxes with a direct line to the local highway patrol on some freeways and highways. Use them to request assistance for breakdowns and report hazards and accidents.
Take the names and addresses of any witnesses to the accident. If a motorist refuses to give his name, note his registration number. Note the registration numbers of all vehicles involved and their drivers' and owners' names and addresses, vehicle registration certificate, driving licence and insurance details. By law these details must be given to anyone having reasonable grounds for requiring them (e.g. anyone injured or the owner of damaged property).
Failing to stop after an accident, or failure to give particulars or report to the police is a serious offence, however there is no requirement to report an accident to the police if there are no injuries or damage to property other than your own.
It is wise not to say anything that could be interpreted as an admission of guilt or agree to pay for damages or sign any papers except a traffic ticket before checking with your insurance company or lawyer.
Reporting an incident to the police
If the police attend, note the names and badge numbers of any those present.
All accidents involving death or bodily injury must usually be reported immediately to the local police, sheriff or highway patrol.
If death, injury or property damage above a minimum amount, is involved, the safety-responsibility laws of most states require that the accident is also reported to the state Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and financial responsibility established within a given period, e.g. 5 or 10 days. This is in addition to any report made to the police, highway patrol, or insurance company. If you fail to report an accident, your driving licence may be suspended for a year.
Anyone in collision with a domestic animal (except a cat) who is unable to find the owner, must report it the local police. This also applies to certain wild animals, e.g. deer, which are a danger on rural roads, including some freeways.
Report all accidents to the insurance company in writing as soon as possible. An accident report form should be completed and returned as soon as possible. The claim procedure depends on the insurance cover and that of anyone else involved in the accident.
In many cases, natural disasters are unpredictable and therefore not necessarily covered by travel insurers who class them as "acts of God". It is wise therefore to ensure that if you intend to travel to an area where extreme natural phenomena may occur, that your insurance will provide cover for any losses sustained. Examples include:
- Earthquakes - Certain states popular with British holidaymakers are prone to earthquakes. These include Hawaii, California and Nevada.
- Hurricanes - The coastal regions may also be affected by hurricanes in a season that usually runs from June to November. Their approaches are well monitored and evacuation procedures are put in place to remove people from risk of injury.
- Tornadoes - Tornadoes can occur at any time of the year depending on weather conditions. The US National Weather Service gives advice on what to do during and after a tornado.
- Wildfires - In dry areas forest and brush fires are a danger. High winds can cause fires to spread very rapidly. Areas of high risk are canyons, hills and forests. Monitor local media reports and follow the advice of local law enforcement officials.
In some cases, it may be possible to make a claim for injuries sustained following a natural disaster or other extreme weather event, if it can be proved that another party negligently contributed to your injury. Success will depend on the unique circumstances of a claim.
Other potential injuries in the USA include:
- Slips, trips and falls on hiking excursions
- Accidents in amusement parks lead to about 7,000 injuries annually.
- Train accidents - there are around 2,500 train accidents every year causing injuries and in some cases death.
- Boating accidents — According to U.S. Coast Guard data there were 4,515 boating accidents in 2012, causing 3,000 injuries and 651 deaths.
If you have been injured during a non-package holiday, it may still be possible for a UK-based solicitor to pursue your claim through the Courts in England and Wales.
If you believe you may have a claim, it is recommended that you seek legal advice as soon as possible, as non-package travel claims can be complex.
There are several differences between claiming for personal injury in the US and the UK. In the vast majority of USA claims, the amount of compensation to which you may be entitled may be substantially more.
Can I make a No Win, No Fee claim in the USA?
In the UK, "no win no fee" means that if the claimant loses his case, he will not have to pay any of his own lawyers' fees but may still be liable to pay for those of the defendant and other expenses such as medical report fees. If the claimant wins his case in the UK, he may claim legal fees from the defendant in addition to the compensation payment
In an American personal injury claim, legal fees are paid as a percentage deduction from the compensation award. This is why the amount of compensation typically received is a lot higher than that in the UK.
Most USA attorneys charge a percentage of between 25-33% of the compensation, meaning an award of 100,000 would cost between 25,000 and 33,000 in legal fees.
British Embassy Washington
3100 Massachusetts Avenue NW
Washington DC 20008
PHONE (202) 588.6500
British Consulate-General, Boston
One Memorial Drive, 15th Floor
Cambridge, MA 02142
PHONE (617) 245.4500
British Consulate-General, Denver
Suite 1030, World Trade Centre Tower
Denver, CO 80202
PHONE (303) 592.5200
British Consulate-General, Los Angeles
2029 Century Park East, Suite 1350
Los Angeles, CA, 90020
PHONE (310) 789.0031
British Consulate-General, New York
845 Third Avenue
New York, NY 10022
PHONE (212) 745.0200
British Consulate-General, San Francisco
1 Sansome Street, Suite 850
San Francisco, CA 94104
PHONE (415) 617.1300
The national network of Quittance solicitors help injured people with all types of personal injury claims, from short-term injury cases to catastrophic injury. Chosen on the basis of their track record in winning cases, QLS's solicitors have years of dedicated experience handling claims on behalf of injured claimants.
About the author
Howard qualified as a solicitor in 1984 and has specialised in personal injury for over 25 years. He is a member of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) and is a recognised Law Society Personal Injury Panel expert.
Read more about this Quittance Legal Expert