Have you ever seen something, such as a car accident or an assault on a night out and had that internal dilemma - do you offer to help, or walk away? Many choose to walk away to avoid becoming involved in the situation and on an assumption that 'someone else will step forward'.
Unfortunately, all too often no one else does help and the reluctance of witnesses to assist can make it very difficult to obtain justice. In a personal injury setting we often need witnesses, either to clarify exactly what happened to cause the injuries or to help evidence the impact of the accident on the injured person.
In this guide we hope to address some of the myths associated with acting as a witness in the hope that it will encourage you to assist if you are ever witness to an accident.
A witness is a term used to refer to someone who is not directly involved in a situation, but who sees with their own eyes what happened or is currently happening.
An independent witness means that the person seeing the situation does not know any of the parties involved.
If there is a dispute over the facts of an accident or assault, independent witness evidence can be crucial to the parties and the court to help them to get to the bottom of what actually happened. Often the people directly involved cannot remember all of the detail as they were wrapped up in dealing with the incident itself.
An independent witness can give clarity and an unbiased viewpoint.
Imagine you are driving and the car in front of you is involved in an accident. You see the accident take place before you and the driver of the car in front of you is injured. There is a passenger in the car too but they seem ok.
The passenger will be a witness because they were not in control of the car, but they probably saw what happened; their memory may be sketchy because at the time they were concerned to ensure that the driver was ok and to deal with the emergency services. However as they may know the driver they would be classed as a non independent witness.
You however can definitely remember how the accident happened; you have never seen the people involved in the accident before until today - that makes you an independent witness. Your memory of what caused the accident is likely to be much clearer because your attention was not diverted by concern for the welfare of family or friends.
The simple answer is yes. As illustrated above, they may witness the accident itself if they are in the car with the driver at the time of the accident. They may also be able to give evidence regarding the aftermath of the accident.
Consider the situation where you are involved in a serious car accident and you suffer an injury, perhaps you break your leg or fracture your arm. Your family members will see the impact your injuries have upon your ability to live your every day life, to work, to drive and to socialise amongst other things.
To have a family member's perspective regarding the impact of an injury upon an individual they know well can be invaluable when bringing a claim for personal injury compensation.
A witness statement is a written account of the information the witness can give which is relevant to the case. The written statement has to be set out in a certain way and supported by a statement of truth in order to be used in a legal case.
Your legal representative will initially need to contact any witnesses in order to find out what information they have about your case. Then they will draft a witness statement in the correct format and ask the witness to approve it. The witness statement will need to be signed and dated in order to make it valid.
The statement must only include information which the witness has in their own knowledge, it will not normally be appropriate to include information from another person; for example if someone says something to the witness about an accident, the witness cannot refer to that information in their statement because it is not their own knowledge, it is someone else's experience.
A very high percentage of cases will settle through negotiations and it will not be necessary to attend court, however; if a case cannot be settled then yes, potentially we would ask the witness to attend court to give evidence.
Often witness evidence can make a big difference to the outcome of the case.
We usually receive plenty of notice of the date of the court hearing and we can also ask the Judge to award the witness their expenses for attending.
If you are thinking of making a personal injury claim and are wondering about the legal process, the best thing to do is contact us. You can call us on 08000 93 00 94 or complete an online enquiry form and we will call you back.
Louisa Chambers is a Solicitor and Chartered Legal Executive within Spencers catastrophic injury team. Louisa deals with cases that involve serious injuries occurring as a result of road traffic accidents.