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Client's day out at court – have no fear!

Solicitor to client: “I’m afraid the Defendant does not wish to make any offers of settlement and intends to proceed to trial on your case.”

Client to solicitor: “I thought my case would settle and I would not need to go to Court…I really do not want to go to Court.”

Many clients are frightened at the prospect of having to attend court to provide evidence in relation to their personal injury claim. The idea of going to court may instil a feeling of anxiety and clients may envisage a judge disapproving their evidence, a defendant barrister cross-examining them aggressively and the actual defendant’s presence intimidating.

In my experience, only a few personal injury claims will proceed to a trial. The majority will settle before a trial through negotiations however in every case there is a possibility that negotiations will not succeed and the case will have to proceed to trial.

In cases valued under £25,000 where the defendant is only liable for fixed costs, a defendant is more likely to take a chance to defend a case to see if a Judge will accept their defence and not make an award of compensation to a client.

I must emphasise, as a solicitor I would never advocate proceeding to trial if a case lacked a reasonable chance of success. A defendant deciding to proceed to trial does not automatically mean the client’s case is poor on liability and is doomed to fail. Clients should not be afraid of proceeding to trial under the guidance of their solicitor.

There are other circumstances where a client’s solicitor may recommend issuing court proceedings. For example where:-

  • Defendant insurers fail to make an offer within a reasonable timeframe or any offers at all.
  • The defendant insurers have put forward an unreasonable offer of settlement leaving the client at risk of being undercompensated for their injuries.
  • Defendants deny liability or allege contributory negligence in a case where there is a reasonable chance of the defendant being found liable.
  • Defendant insurers who refuse to make an interim payment when a client may be suffering financial hardship as a result of their accident.

The Trial

Judges are aware that a client may be nervous and are usually very helpful throughout the process. A client will also be represented by a barrister who will have a significant amount of experience in dealing with personal injury claims.

A trial will typically open with both barristers making an opening speech. The client will then provide his or her evidence followed by the defendant’s barrister cross-examining the client. If necessary, the client’s barrister will then have an opportunity to ask further questions to the client. The defendant witnesses will then provide their evidence and thereafter the client’s barrister will also have the opportunity to cross-examine any defendant witnesses. Certain cases may involve expert witnesses giving evidence in relation to issues of liability or the value of the client’s case. After all of the evidence has been heard, the judge will usually retire to consider all the evidence and will thereafter provide a judgement in relation to the case.

I recently represented a client in relation to an accident at work against a well-known company which proceeded to trial. My client did not have any independent witnesses and the defendant presented 3 witnesses to refute my client’s version of events and to mount a considerable liability defence. Although the defendant witnesses outnumbered our only witness, my client, the judge found my client’s evidence to be more credible in comparison to the 3 witnesses which provided evidence on behalf of the Defendant. My client succeeded in receiving damages in the sum of £9,000. My client mentioned that although he experienced some difficulty during cross-examination the overall experience was less daunting than he had imagined it would be.

The message to all clients would be to have no fear. Whilst there is no guarantee of success at a trial there is always a good chance things may go your way on the day and most of the time it is a good experience to have.