My colleague recently wrote a post about insurance companies allowing injury cases to run right up to the wire. It was rightly pointed out that cases very rarely get to trial and settlements can be and very usually are reached at an earlier stage if both sides are willing to negotiate.
Having said this, there’s no avoiding the fact that some cases do go to trial. When I first speak to new clients one of the first questions I’m asked is whether they will have to go to court. I can never guarantee that this will not happen. Yes, there is a small chance that the claim a client is wishing to make may end up at trial if it has good prospects of success and yet the insurers have been unwilling to admit responsibility and/or agree to how much compensation should be paid.
Most clients are terrified about going to court. They shouldn’t be. It’s just a room with a man in it (maybe even a woman) who is going to listen to all the evidence and decide if an inured person should receive compensation or not. The judge won’t even be wearing a wig (they’ve not worn them in civil cases since 2008). The injured person gets to tell their story to the judge. If there are witnesses they are likely to be called as well to say what they know. If expert evidence is involved, the judge may have ordered the experts to attend so he can hear their evidence in person and be able to question them further. The claimant will have met with their legal team before the trial and will know exactly what to expect. This is not Perry Mason; there will be no surprises on the day.
I think the part which scares clients is the fact that the insurer’s legal representative will ask questions about their evidence. No matter how much belief they have in their account they will worry that the insurer’s lawyer will trip them up, fluster them and try to discredit them. I would like to say this is utter nonsense but indeed it is part of the opposing barrister’s job to test the credibility of an injured person’s evidence. But this shouldn’t be anything to be worried about. Throughout the claim, a claimant’s legal team will have tested their evidence. If there was doubt over a client’s version of events, the claim would not have gone to trial. Claims only go to trial when each side believes they have a good case and need a judge to decide who is right. Sometimes this is down to the injured person’s/insurer’s version of events, sometimes this is down to the disputed opinion of an expert such as an engineer or a doctor. It will be up to the judge to decide.
One last thing, if you do find your claim going to trial wear a suit (and I don’t mean a tracksuit), wash your hair and clean your nails. This will make absolutely no difference to the quality of your evidence but it will say to the judge that you are taking your claim seriously and that you respect his courtroom. Every little helps.