In any personal injury case, having thorough, clear and detailed evidence is essential in order to support a claim.
Witness statements are a primary source of evidence in such cases and are heavily relied upon in order to establish the circumstances of the accident, the chronology of events and the future impact of the injuries on the individual, our client.
A witness statement can be taken from a variety of people connected to the incident, such as parents or a spouse, for example, who is caring for the client, or it could be a person with no connection at all but who witnessed the accident.
If the case were to go to trial, the importance of having a detailed and well-formatted statement should not be underestimated. For example, a trial Judge is unlikely to award damages for care provided to a claimant if there are no statements detailing that such care was, in fact, provided.
Recently, there have been several cases which clearly highlight the importance of witness statements in personal injury cases.
In Barrow v Merrett , the Claimant was walking to school in the morning whilst crossing the road and was hit by the Defendant’s car. The Claimant, unfortunately, suffered orthopaedic and neurological injuries as a result. There were some problems with this case and the account of how the accident actually happened. Initially, the claimant’s friend, in his account to the police, claimed that he tried to warn the claimant, telling him to wait as a car was coming, but the warning was too late because the Claimant had already run across the road. Later, in another account to someone else, the same friend stated that actually, the Claimant had been walking across the road, slipped and was then hit by the Defendant as he was about to get up. Ultimately, it was decided that the initial statement made by the friend was probably, the most accurate version as it was made closer to the incident.
Our recollection of events tends to fade over time and therefore becomes less reliable. The judge in the case of Barrow v Merrett concluded that the Claimant ran into the road. This was appealed, and the case went to the Court of Appeal, which agreed with the initial ruling.
Witness statements are to be written in the witness’ own words.
This is vital so that they can be used effectively as an objective and reliable source of information. The case of Mackenzie v Rosenblatt Solicitors & Anor  illustrates this point. In this case, four Claimant witness statements were clearly not written in the witnesses’ own words and had been used by the Claimant’s legal representatives to advance a version of events that was not strictly accurate. The Judge highlighted that the tone and style of the statements were too similar. If the four witness statements had truly been in their own words, the differences in personalities would have been very apparent.
What happens if the statement is not true?
At the end of every statement, the witness will need to sign a ‘Statement of Truth’ which confirms that the contents of the statement are in their own words and that they believe that its contents are true and accurate.
If, further down the line, it transpires that the statement was false, or the witness signed the statement without knowing the contents of the statement to be true and/or the witness did not honestly believe it was true, then this can cause significant problems with the claim.
Ultimately, proceedings against the witness can be brought for contempt of court. It is the responsibility of the solicitor to ensure that the witness understands the consequences of signing a statement of truth and to inform the witness that they must only sign the document if they are happy with its contents. However, it remains the responsibility of the witness to ensure that the facts in the statement are correct. The takeaway from this is that no statement should be signed if the witness is unsure of any point. Being dishonest in a witness statement can severely affect the claim, as well as the possibility of criminal charges being brought against the witness.
How can we help?
Our highly skilled team of personal injury lawyers will ensure each stage of your claim is progressed expertly, and this includes the preparation of witness evidence.