Contested hearings

Contested hearings for medical negligence claims

Knowing that you will have to give evidence in court can be very daunting for some people. However, although you have responsibilities, it need not be a stressful experience. This article contains advice on how to approach contested hearings for medical negligence claims.

You will either be a lay witness, meaning that you were involved in the incident due to what you heard, did or viewed, or you will be an independent expert witness who advised on the medical aspects of your negligence claim.

You are not expected to know the ins and outs of the law, nevertheless you should use the weeks before the trial to clarify any points of confusion with your lawyers, familiarise yourself with all the documents involved and make sure that you have reread your witness statement. You should also check who are prohibited from speaking to, which will often be witnesses and defendants from the other side.

The day of the hearing

Make sure you arrive at court in plenty of time so that you can prepare yourself and have a meeting with your solicitor and barrister.

o The oath/affirmation: Once you take the witness stand you will be required to either swear an oath on a holy book or make a promise known as an affirmation. You may choose whichever option suits you best. The words will be read a card and if you swear an oath you will do so whilst holding up the holy book in your right hand.

o Examination in Chief: at this stage you will be questioned by your barrister so that the court can hear your evidence and build a picture of what happened

o Cross examination: This is a chance for your opponent’s barrister to question you and they will attempt to do so in a way that favours their cause and discredits yours. Your testimony will be scrutinised by testing your memory, looking for gaps in your evidence and questioning your conduct. You need not be panicked – simply take your time, answer honestly and only address to the judge.

o Witness re-examination: this will not always happen. When it does, it will be a case of your barrister clarifying any points of your testimony to respond to the other sides cross examination.

o Evidence from expert medical witnesses: the expert medical professionals who were called upon to give an opinion on your claim and assess the extent of injuries sustained in the accident will then be required to give evidence. Their opinion will be important in calculating the damages required to compensate you for the costs of medical treatment, equipment needed, training to cope with your injuries and your general suffering.

After all of these stages, the barristers from both sides will speak to conclude their case.

4 things to remember when giving evidence:

1. Be completely honest. You have promised to do so and should you be found to have lied there will be very serious criminal penalties.

2. If you can’t remember something – say so, and if you don’t understand a question – ask for it to be rephrased.

3. Face the judge at all times, not the barrister. It is the judge who will decide the outcome, so speak to them

4. Don’t fear the other side’s lawyers but don’t confront them either. Simply focus on delivering your evidence clearly

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