This evening I’ll be at the Eclipse Proclaim Personal Injury Awards 2017 as the guest of Warren Collins, who has been shortlisted as Claimant Personal Injury Lawyer of the Year – and was the inspiration for me to start  writing expert witness reports.

I first met Warren, Partner at Penningtons Manches LLP, via Linkedin in 2015, and he’s offered me great advice, support and encouragement in my work since.

When we first met I wasn’t writing expert witness accommodation reports, or interested in doing so. I saw myself as more of hands on, working with people type of OT.

Many of the accommodation expert witness reports I’d seen were focused on physical disabilities, and specifically wheelchair access.  These reports were missing cognitive, visual and emotional impairments. Nor did they specify how carers would work, and the space they’d need for activities such as transferring clients.

Empowering clients for independence

As a housing OT I knew that all of these factors must be considered to meet an individual’s accommodation needs. From layout and room size to window position, open plan living or not, lighting, kitchen design and use of the stairs, there are countless design decisions that, if made correctly, can empower the client for independence and enable them to live a full life.

I made it clear to Warren that I didn’t think report writing was for me, yet because he liked my way of thinking he insisted it was something I should consider.

When we sat down and discussed the issue he was very specific about what he felt was missing from other reports.  None of the reports either of us had seen fully addressed the client’s accommodation needs. Usually two reports are commissioned, one from an architect/surveyor and one from a Rehabilitation OT who has limited housing knowledge.

A holistic approach to writing expert witness reports

Neither report would consider good practice design for cognitive, visual and emotional impairment, and both had their limitations – what was missing was a holistic report which looked at both building design and rehabilitation needs.

After that initial discussion with Warren I could see how my skills could be put to use to create a holistic report that ensures the client’s accommodation needs are fully met.

The responsibility of being an expert

But it was not just a case of going back to the office and writing a report – I first had to learn the necessary skills to ensure my reports could stand up to cross examination in court and learn about my responsibility as an expert.

I thoroughly enjoyed the accredited expert witness course run by Bond Solon/Cardiff University, and believe it was vital as part of the process.

On completion of that course my first expert witness report was for, you guessed it, Warren! It was a particularly challenging case, but it was great to be able to use my experience and new training to make a series of recommendations which had a positive impact on the family involved and secured the compensation they required to adapt their house.

Meeting an individual’s accommodation needs

Not surprisingly I have faced opposition from a number of lawyers, questioning my expertise due to the lack of technical construction knowledge. However, I believe that in-depth understanding of the clients’ impairments and the implications these have on the way they use their home environment, is far more important and relevant in meeting their accommodation needs.

Any alterations I recommend, which may require structural expertise, are always checked by a surveyor/engineer prior the submission of my report (and always appear in the appendices), just as an architect would do.

Despite my initial reluctance to work as an expert witness I now really enjoy it. I take the ‘expert’ part of the ‘expert witness’ title incredibly seriously, and make sure that I’ve always got a good balance between report writing and OT work, as it’s my OT skills that make me an expert, not my ability to write a report. You can find out more about my approach here. 

Thank you

So thank you Warren, for your support over the years and for believing in the knowledge that I could bring to the litigation world. I know I managed to surprise you and your counsel more than once with my unique insight and perspective.

There is no surprise that you have been shortlisted for this award as you believe in exploring alternative ways of work, thinking outside the box, and finding new solutions in order to achieve the absolute very best for your clients. I feel honoured to be your guest, I wish you luck for Wednesday evening!