Can I claim injury compensation if there were no witnesses?
Having a witness to an accident can support an injury claim. What if there were no witnesses?
To win their personal injury claim, the claimant must prove that another party, the defendant, was responsible for their injury. The claimant must also establish that this party owed them a duty of care.
Establishing the duty of care is often a matter of law; teachers owe a duty of care to their students, doctors to their patients, employers to their staff.
Proving that the defendant was responsible, however, will often rest on evidence. This evidence usually includes witness statements.
An independent witness's statement corroborating the claimant's version of events can be a strong piece of evidence in support of a claim.
However, depending on the circumstances of the injury, it may be possible to win a claim even without an eyewitness account.
What is a witness?
A witness is usually defined as a person who saw the accident happen.
For example, in the case of a road traffic accident this could be someone in another vehicle or at the roadside who saw what happened.
A witness may also be an individual who had knowledge of a set of circumstances or a hazard that led to the injury.
For example, in a work accident claim involving an accident in a warehouse, a witness may be another member of staff who did not see the accident itself, but who could testify that the warehouse was unsafe for the reasons that resulted in the accident, such as pallets being piled too high.
A passenger in a vehicle involved in the accident could also be a witness. He may have also seen what happened but his account of events may be influenced by concern for the driver of his vehicle.
An "independent witness" is a person who has knowledge of the circumstances of the accident, but who does not closely know any of the parties involved and can usually present an unbiased viewpoint.
In the case of a road traffic accident claim, a passenger who knows the driver making the claim is not likely to be considered to be an independent witness.
How important are eyewitnesses?
Where there is any dispute over the facts of an accident, or a criminal injury, independent witness evidence can make a crucial difference to the outcome of a disputed case.
Witness evidence helps to establish that the claim is not dubious or exaggerated, and may help determine who was responsible for an accident when liability is being denied.
Eyewitnesses, however, are not essential, and many claims are won without the support of an independent witness's account.
What happens when there is no witness?
Although a witness is generally thought of as a person who ‘saw what happened' other people can witness that someone had a similar accident, or that a defect that caused injury had been present - and for how long.
A witness may be a colleague who gives evidence about usual malpractices in the workplace that led to an accident.
Family and friends may also be regarded as witnesses as they observe the impact the aftermath of the accident is having on a claimant's everyday life.
The balance of probabilities
It is often still worth making a claim, even if there were no eyewitnesses.
In a criminal case, the prosecution must prove "beyond reasonable doubt" that the accused is guilty. This is a very high standard of proof, and can require multiple independent witness statements depending on the circumstances of the case.
Civil claims, however, including personal injury claims, are decided "on the balance of probabilities". This means that, for a claimant's case to succeed, it must be proved that their account is more likely that the account of the defendant, even if the balance is only 51% in favour of the claimant.
It may be possible to prove, based on medical evidence and expert witnesses, for example, that the claimant's version of events is "more likely than not" what actually happened.
Other ways of producing evidence to support a claim include taking photographs at the scene of the accident and photographs of the injuries.
CCTV footage may also be used to establish the circumstances of an accident and support a claim.
Accidents at work should always be officially recorded in the accident book, even where there are no witnesses at the time. A colleague may do this on behalf of another if the injury prevents the claimant from doing so.
Witnesses who are reluctant to give evidence
Sometimes an individual may have seen an incident but are not prepared to act as a witness or decline to come forward.
It may be possible to encourage them to speak about what they saw - in the case of police enquiries, potential witnesses may be identified and asked to provide testimony.
Even if a witness is reluctant to appear in Court, their statement in support of a claimant's account may make Court action unnecessary, encouraging the defendant to settle out of Court.
Making a claim without witnesses
A solicitor will assist with the identification of potential witnesses, and will be able to discuss how likely a claim is to succeed without eyewitnesses.
For more information, and to discuss your options with a specialist, contact Quittance on 0800 612 7456 or request a callback today.