The case Goodman v Faber Prest Steel, highlights the importance of carefully prepared witness evidence. With the advent of even stricter rules on proportionality and the constraints of cost budgets, there is always a risk of ‘cutting corners’. There will be savings to make, but that must not be at the expense of a properly prepared case. Using the right people for the right work is key.
The central point arising from the Goodman case is not to overlook or ignore contemporaneous records when preparing witness evidence.
Mr Goodman was involved in a road traffic accident in February 2004. There was a dispute on causation. Mr Goodman’s case was that he had developed significant injuries as a result of the accident. The Defendant however argued Mr Goodman had not suffered any long-standing problems caused by the accident. Mr Goodman made a reliable and credible witness and the judge at first instance preferred the evidence of Mr Goodman and found in his favour.
However, Mr Goodman had significant and inconsistent medical records, documenting his progress since the accident. The contemporaneous records did not show any real injury and it was months later when there was any indication of the onset of significant and differing symptoms. There was no mention of these inconsistencies in Mr Goodman’s statement and no attempt to address them. The Defendant appealed, on the grounds that the Judge had erred in failing to give due consideration to the documentary evidence. The appeal was allowed in so far as the Judge ought to have considered the medical records, and if the claimant’s evidence was preferred to explain why. The matter is to return for a re hearing.
The fact is that this problem ought not to have arisen in the first place. Mr Goodman’s medical records should have been reviewed and the inconsistencies put to him. There was every opportunity for this to be done, as Mr Goodman was reviewed by his own medical expert no less than five occasions, but it appears no attempt was taken to cross-check the contemporaneous records, with his own evidence. This may prove fatal to the claim.
It is not clear why the inconsistencies were not picked up, or whether it was hoped that Mr Goodman’s strength as a witness would be sufficient. However the case makes clear that due consideration must be given to the documentary evidence, even if the court ultimately prefers the claimant’s testimony. As a matter of course, medical records should always be cross-checked against a client’s evidence and where there are inconsistencies, these should be raised with the claimant and an explanation sought. More often than not, there is in fact a reasonable explanation. This should be adequately explained in the claimant’s witness statement. This can assist in staving off likely arguments from the defendant and provide an open and honest representation of the claimant to the court.