24 March, 2020
Anon v Bury Council
The claimant alleged that he tripped and fell on defective footpath on the grass verge which was dropped by about 2 inches at the edge. He suffered from shock for four days, and a soft tissue injury to his ankle.
The defendant admitted breach of statutory duty but denied causation. The defendant put the claimant to strict proof. Upon receipt of the claim, the defendant became aware of several convictions against the claimant which cast doubt on his credibility and character. He had previously been found guilty for fraud and breaching a harassment order. He had also been convicted for bullying a pensioner over a sustained period and stealing £3,200 for which he had received a 20-month prison sentence.
In a questionnaire provided to the claimant he denied having made any previous claims for personal injury, despite having made one just 18 months earlier.
During the trial, the claimant was cross-examined in detail. The claimant contended that he had been walking to a colleague's car when he fell. His colleague had provided a statement but failed to attend the trial as she was out of the country. The claimant attempted to vacate the trial, but the Judge rejected the application.
Throughout the cross examination, the claimant gave inconsistent evidence. He was unable to adequately explain his direction of travel, the mechanism of the accident, where exactly his accident had occurred and what he had done after his accident. Furthermore, his evidence relating to his post-accident care and employment situation was contradictory. For instance, he claimed he required help with the simplest of tasks yet didn't take any time off from a job that involved lifting heavy items.
The biggest problem for the claimant came when he was asked by the Judge to draw/sketch his route to his colleague's car on a Google Street View image. He drew a red line that was in a completely different area to the alleged defect. The claimant's barrister attempted to get the claimant to explain his sketch and tried to give evidence on his behalf to say that the claimant must have been mistaken, but the Judge denied any such representations.
Due to these inconsistencies, the Judge found that the claimant had not discharged the burden of proof. His claim was therefore dismissed. The Judge went on to say that although the claimant had not proved his case, she did not believe that he had brought a dishonest claim.
When evidence comes to light which calls into question the credibility of a claimant then significant consideration is always given as to how the evidence can be used to assist the defendant's case. In this instance, a newspaper article regarding the claimant's criminal conviction was disclosed to the claimant and included in the trial bundle. Unsurprisingly, the claimant's representatives argued that the article prejudiced the claimant and sought to remove it from the trial bundle. The defendant maintained that it should be included on the basis that the article confirmed that the claimant had been convicted of fraud which was relevant to the claim. The Judge allowed it in on the basis that she would consider the evidence as a whole and would use her experience to determine the relevance of the news article. Even though the Judge made a brief comment in her Judgment that she didn't find the news article relevant when making her decision, it confirms that previous convictions of dishonesty and fraud etc can be included as evidence to discredit a claimant.