by Caroline Buckingham, Associate Solicitor, Moore Blatch
In any claim for personal injury, witness statements form a vital part of the case. A good quality witness statement is of even greater importance in high value claims for spinal cord injuries.
In England a person’s witness statement stands as their evidence in chief. In a trial the person giving evidence to the court will be questioned upon the evidence contained within their statement. It is therefore vitally important that a witness statement is accurate and as detailed as possible.
It is not possible to raise new matters at trial that have not been discussed within the witness statements. Therefore in a badly drafted statement key evidence could be missed leading to serious consequences upon the outcome of the trial and any award of damages.
Witness statements must not be exaggerated. They must reflect the facts as they stand. If a judge finds that a statement has been exaggerated or is fundamentally dishonest this could result in a claim being struck out.
Witness statements can be taken from a variety of different people covering different aspects of a personal injury case. At Moore Blatch we meet with our clients’ family members, friends, employers, lecturers and in the case of children we will often meet with teachers and other care providers.
Witness statements can be used to inform the court and the defendant about a wide range of aspects including:
These statements set out the facts of the case and they explain how the accident happened. The purpose of the statement is to establish who is to be held at fault for the accident. In cases where liability is disputed there will be witness statements from both parties. It is important that your solicitor meets with you and any witnesses to the accident at the outset of your case where your own memory and those of your witnesses are still vivid. A court is likely to give greater weight to a witness statement made close to the events it concerns than one prepared months or even years later.
2. The affect the accident has had upon your education or career
A person who has suffered spinal cord injury may find some challenges upon their return to work. It may be that a person is no longer able to work following an accident or it may be that they are able to work but in a limited capacity. A person with a spinal cord injury may need to retrain to pursue a different career path following an accident. A witness statement setting out a person’s education/career path before and after the accident is very helpful evidence to put before a Court.
A statement from an employer could be helpful. As an example an employer who sets out issues that were overcome with regard to access to a building, a wider disabled parking bay on site, a work station positioned with access to a disabled toilet and, if at all possible, a quiet room for the person to rest in when fatigued.
3. The care that has been provided to you by family members and friends;
These are known often known as gratuitous care statements. Gratuitous care is care provided by family members or friends as opposed to professional care that is paid for.
Care statements provide details of the care and assistance that has been provided following an accident and resulting injury. Care statements should comment upon the type of care provided such as help with washing and dressing, assistance with medication and meal preparation. Witness statements can also be used to comment upon the affect upon hobbies and interests, the affect upon relationships with family members and friends and hopes and aspirations for the future. They can be used to describe the injuries sustained and the recovery that has been made.
A witness statement paints a picture of the person as they were before the accident and of how their life has been changed as a result of an accident. A witness statement should read like a good book.
A good personal injury lawyer will appreciate the importance of a thorough witness statement and will meet with their client a number of times during the lifetime of their case to ensure that their witness statement is up to date and accurate.