In the last of our series of blogs about court proceedings, we will find out ‘What happens at a trial?’ Whilst most successful personal injury claims are settled without having to start expensive and very time consuming court proceedings, some do not. For our injured claimant Daisy and her legal team, despite their best efforts to negotiate with the defendant, that day has come.
In the previous blog, Court Proceedings – What does than mean?, we learned that upon arriving at the court, Daisy received an offer to drop her case by the defendant and walk away. What did she decide?
In England and Wales, if someone with a personal injury claim was to proceed to trial, but lose, provided they are found not to have been ‘fundamentally dishonest’, then there are no adverse consequences for them. Yes, you have lost your case, but you don’t lose everything. Daisy has a good case and in the weeks before the trial her legal expenses insurer had given the go ahead to proceed, so what does she have to lose? We march on.
A week before trial, Daisy’s solicitor had prepared and filed a trial bundle, which contains all of the evidence which had been collated during the last 2 ½ years; the expert medical reports, medical records, photographs of the accident scene, witness evidence, the accident report and other documents that both sides had disclosed to one another. The trial is estimated to last for 2 days.
Day 1 begins with opening submissions by Daisy’s barrister followed by the defendant’s barrister. Daisy is then invited to give her evidence. She is questioned, in turn, by the barristers and she gives a good account of herself. She is expertly guided through her evidence (in the bundle) and she is quite clear and undaunted; “I slipped, not because I spilt my tea, but because the metal staircase was slippery and therefore, unsafe”. She is also taken through the medical evidence. Her physical limitations are pretty much accepted by her opponents’ legal team although they argue against the weight of her financial losses and counter that her claim is worth no more than £100,000. When she steps down over an hour later she is relieved but anxious to hear what the other witnesses have to say.
Daisy’s witness Chris is equally confident and straightforward. No, he didn’t see Daisy’s accident. Yes, he did see the apprentice drop the large barrel of cooking oil the previous day. Yes, it split open and the oil spattered everywhere. “Was it cleaned up?” he is asked by Daisy’s barrister. “I doubt it, that place was an accident waiting to happen…”
Next up are Daisy’s former co-workers, a shiftier bunch you are unlikely to see. One of them, an employee of 20+ years, argues with Daisy’s barrister, much to the dismay of the Defendant’s legal team. Each witness trots out the same identical story. There was no barrel of oil and even if there was, it was cleaned up.
Day 1 comes to a close and the two sides leave the court room. The barristers are deep in conversation. Daisy soon finds out why. Her barrister reminds Daisy that to win her case, the judge needs to have been persuaded that her version of events is the correct one and, that she has proven, on the balance of probabilities, that she slipped on the stairs because of the Defendants negligence, in that they failed to provide her with a safe place of work and, safe and competent work colleagues.
Has she done enough today? Perhaps, but if the judge is concerned by the lack of eyewitness evidence to support Daisy, then she could lose. That said, the Defendant’s witnesses were poor and openly hostile, a sure sign that they are not quite as confident.
The Defendant has offered Daisy an olive branch. £50,000 plus her costs. If she accepts then her case is over tonight. Whilst her claim is valued, on a very good day in court, at a little more than £250,000, if the judge finds against her tomorrow, she will get nothing.
Months ago, Daisy had made a formal offer to the Defendant that she would settle her case for £150,000. They refused to accept and made no counter offers. She has a huge decision to make. She is given until 0930 the next morning to accept the offer.
Day 2 of the trial and Daisy, supported by her legal team, politely declines the defendants offer. The judge hears closing submissions from the barristers and then retires to her chambers to consider the evidence and prepare her judgment.
An hour goes by. Two hours and then, at 3pm, the parties are called back to the court by the court usher. The judge is ready.
The parties remain seated as the judge reads out her decision.
Daisy wins! The judge finds the Defendant to be primary liable for the accident. The lack of any formal cleaning regime, a lackadaisical management structure and the open hostility of their witnesses is the Defendants undoing. However, the judge also makes a finding of ‘contributory negligence’ against Daisy for not taking precautions for her own safety at work. Carrying hot tea in one hand and a file of papers in the other was more than a momentary lapse of concentration – her damages will be reduced by 20%.
She then goes on to award Daisy gross personal injury damages of £190,000. After deducting the 20%, the Defendant is ordered to pay Daisy £152,000 plus her costs. Daisy feels exonerated and elated.
Her barrister then calmly stands and explains to the judge that Daisy has made two formal (Part 36) offers long before the trial had started. She has beaten her damages offer (of £150,000) and matched her liability offer (of 80/20). The Defendant is therefore liable to pay Daisy an additional 10% in damages (£15,200), plus interest on her damages (8% pa), plus all of her costs since she made the offers. The Defendant is crestfallen. Daisy and her legal team are ecstatic.
The damages will ensure that Daisy has the best future medical care and rehabilitation and the NHS won’t have to be responsible for the Defendants negligence. She recovers her past loss of earnings and she can now make some modest adaptations to her house and garden, so she is safe on her own two feet. She can also buy an automatic car. The rest she invests for a rainy day.
The aim of personal injury compensation is to put an injured victim back to the position they were in before the accident happened. Sadly, we can’t turn back the clock, but Daisy will now have the financial security to get on and improve her life. Her legal team meanwhile breathes a huge sigh of relief and turn their attention to the next case being prepared for court proceedings.
2nd March 2020
Grant is an accredited personal injury specialist and an authority in accident claims.
This is a fictitious accident at work claim. Whilst at the time of publication, the court process itself is accurate, any similarities with a real incident and persons is purely coincidental.