You’ve likely heard the term “credibility” come up in personal injury claims – but what does the concept of credibility mean for personal injury claimants, and why does it matter?
Below, we’ll introduce the meaning of witness credibility and discuss the importance of credibility in personal injury claims and the factors that can impact it (for better or for worse).
What is Credibility?
Witness credibility is essential in legal proceedings. Essentially, the credibility of a witness refers to the reliability of their testimony and informs how much weight a judge or jury will give that witness’s testimony in court.
Credibility isn’t only important in court, though. For example, if you’re negotiating a settlement, opposing counsel may look to your credibility (based on your discovery evidence and how it accords with associated documentary evidence) to determine how much they are willing to settle for (and how confident they are that they may be successful against you in court.
The Legal Approach to Credibility in Personal Injury Claims
Who decides whether a witness is credible, and how? As every case and witness is different, establishing a witness’s credibility is determined on a case-by-case basis. Over time, however, the courts have outlined some general guidance to help judges in this determination.
In assessing witness credibility, the Supreme Court of Canada acknowledged in R. v. Gagnon, 2006 SCC 17 that “Assessing credibility is not a science.” Noting the difficulty of articulating a judge’s many impressions of a witness after listening to them, the Court decided that a judge’s perception regarding credibility should be respected in the absence of a “palpable and overriding error.”
Further guidance can be found in Faryna v. Chorny, 1951 CanLII 252 (BC CA), another commonly-cited case when assessing a witness’s credibility in Canada. In this case, the court stated that the ultimate test of a witness’s credibility involves assessing whether their evidence is “in harmony with the preponderance of the probabilities which a practical and informed person would readily recognize as reasonable in that place and those conditions.”
Credibility comes down to the witness’s sincerity and whether their story makes sense considering all the other evidence available in the case.
Factors Impacting Credibility in Personal Injury Claims
Credibility issues can come in many different shapes and forms – that’s why personal injury claimants need to understand the factors that impact credibility. Below, we’ve outlined some more common credibility considerations in personal injury claims. Remember that these factors don’t apply strictly to personal injury claimants – they also apply to other witnesses called on behalf of a personal injury claimant. To that end, it’s important to consult an experienced personal injury lawyer for your case to ensure that you and anyone who may be called on your behalf are adequately prepared to provide credible evidence to help your case.
Consistency of Witness Testimony
No one is perfect, and recollections can be lost or vary over time. However, if a witness’s testimony is inconsistent with previous records or evidence – or worse, completely fabricated – the court may question the credibility of that witness.
Take, for example, a personal injury claimant who claimed they suffered a head injury in an accident. Suppose the witness provides this testimony in court yet does not mention a head injury in previous examinations (and reports of a head injury are missing from their medical records). In that case, the court may view their testimony as less credible.
Even worse, take a personal injury claimant who claims at trial that they were unable to partake in many of their favourite hobbies following an accident – only for opposing counsel to provide the court with surveillance evidence showing the claimant doing the activities they claimed they were unable to do following the accident.
Demeanour of a Witness
In legal proceedings, everyone – including witnesses – must conduct themselves professionally. Remember that a witness’s demeanour can significantly impact their credibility. While being nervous is okay (and completely understandable), taking an evasive or hostile approach to questions can make you look less credible. On the other hand, if you provide your evidence in a calm, straightforward, and pleasant manner, the court will be more likely to place greater weight on your evidence.
Past Behaviour of a Witness
A witness’s past behaviour can also impact their credibility in personal injury claims. For example, a witness with a history of lying or committing crimes may be identified as less credible or trustworthy by the court. On the other hand, a witness with a stellar reputation and track record of reliability may be viewed as more credible.
Interests of a Witness
While claimants have an obvious interest in their case – seeking a fair resolution following personal injury – other less obvious interests can impact a witness’s credibility in personal injury claims.
For example, if family members are called witnesses, their testimony could be viewed as biased in certain circumstances (for instance, if opposing counsel suggests that the family member is providing inflated testimony because they have a financial interest in the outcome of the case). In a more esoteric example, if a neighbour whom the personal injury claimant has been fighting with is called a witness and provides testimony hurting the claimant’s case, their testimony could also be biased.
Conclusions on Credibility in Personal Injury Claims
Witness testimony can make or break a personal injury claim. In cases where the witnesses’ recollections differ, the court will ultimately be more inclined to accept the testimony of the more credible party. In that sense, it’s essential to ensure that you always put your best foot forward and avoid common credibility pitfalls when providing evidence.
The information above should encourage personal injury claimants to pursue their claims through settlement or, if necessary, in court. The best way to demonstrate your credibility is to tell the truth, keep a level head, and adequately prepare to provide evidence with the assistance of a skilled personal injury lawyer.
Contact Ottawa Personal Injury Lawyers for Advice on Personal Injury Claims
At Tierney Stauffer LLP, our skilled personal injury lawyers have many years of experience with personal injury claims. We will advise you of the best course of action to obtain the maximum possible settlement so that you can recover financially and move on with your life. Call us at 1-888-799-8057 or contact us online to set up a free consultation with one of our experienced personal injury lawyers.