Reliability of evidence is something we discuss at length in many case reviews because is so important in the success of people's claims. In this post we will review a real case (Robinson v Australian Capital Territory  ACTSC 80) on how a woman, who was hurt when a bus door closed on her, used evidence to prove who was at fault 8 years after her accident.
We all know that memories fade and having to recall reliable testimonies after 8 years would be a challenge for almost all of us. Learn how Mrs Robinson manage to concretely prove who was at fault without relying on her memories.
Let me introduce you to Maureen Robinson.
Maureen* was a 59 year old school teacher. She worked for local private schools, St Edmund's College and St Claire's College, in Canberra. Teaching was her life. She loved it and found it very fulfilling.
She was married to her childhood sweetheart and had two beautiful kids, who were now allw grown-up and doing their own thing in the world.
Maureen and her husband regularly travelled. They had been all over; seeing rural Australia, parts of Europe and South America. They also visited their son in New Zealand regularly. Travelling more was definitely on the agenda for the pair.
Mrs Robinson was an avid tennis player and deep down thought she was quite good at it too.
Maureen was looking forward to her retirement.
After all, she deserved it. She had been a teacher for many years.
Maureen was on track to see her dream retirement within the next 10 years until...
Maureen was hit by a closing bus door.
On the afternoon of the 10 February 2000, Maureen was on after school duty. This involved guiding the school students of St Edmund's and St Clare’s onto buses to take them home. She had been a teacher all her adult life and was well accustomed to what was involved with after school duty.
Maureen estimated that on a typical afternoon, twenty or thirty buses would arrive, taking around 1,000 students home each day. The buses stopped at designated bays, depending on where they were going.
It was a normal day on bus duty. Maureen stepped onto the bottom step of the bus, about a metre from the driver and told the school boys to move onto the bus. She moved to the side to allow the students to get on the bus, and then remembers...
"The bus door just thwacked me."
The bus driver, without warning, closed the door on Maureen. She was struck on the left hip by the door and felt instant shock and pain.
The accident had done some real damage. She had torn her gluteal tendons and developed trochanteric bursitis.
She now lived in constant pain.
She was devastated and exhausted.
She found that after the incident she could no longer stand for long periods of time, walk long distances, play tennis and attend to the garden. Everything she loved doing was now clouded by her pain. The injury was taking over her life.
Eventually, she was let go from her work as a teacher because she couldn't fulfill the necessary duties in her role. The school had no non-teaching jobs to offer her and she was now forced into retirement.
Four years after the accident, she finally had reconstruction surgery to repair her gluteal tendons but the ongoing pain from the accident was still ever-present.
No one deserves to be held back because of someone else's careless actions.
Maureen raised a claim against ACT government, who was the employer of the bus driver involved in the incident.
The Courts heard Maureen case 8 years after the accident occurred. It is worth noting that it is unusual to hear of a case being heard so long after an accident occurred, as strict time limits often mean a case must be brought within 3 years from the accident. As with most cases, for the Courts to understand the true impact of the accident they must wait until the individuals injuries have stabilised. Simply put, the injured party has completed the recovery and are unlikely to get any better or worse. This can take months, even years as the case was with Maureen.
Maureen alleged that the bus driver was negligent, closing the door on her without warning and commenced action against him for:
- failing to keep a proper lookout;
- failing to warn the plaintiff the doors were about to be closed, and;
- closing the doors without ensuring the steps were clear.
For Maureen's case to succeed she needed to provide credible and reliable evidence to the Courts.
Problem was, it was 8 years after the accident occurred and Maureen and her key witnesses likely would have forgotten important pieces of evidence. She would have been uncertain around particular points and this would have damaged her reputation as a reliable witness.
How did she overcome it?
Maureen had three key elements that worked in her favour.
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1. She immediately reported the accident to the correct authorities.
Maureen completed a school accident report the afternoon the incident occurred. This report late became an important piece of evidence. It provided an detailed outlined of what happened on the date of the accident. This written and dated account of the event was considered reliable evidence as it was written when the accident was fresh in Maureen memory.
2. She kept a diary.
On the second day of trial, Maureen produced a document which she had typed onto a computer. The diary confirmed the events on the date of the accident. They also showed how much the accident impacted her day-to-day. She wrote about how much pain she was in and how much it impacted on her mental health.
She detailed conversations she had had with school authorities and other teachers and any medical appointments she attended.
3. She was honest about what she could and couldn't remember.
Maureen was completely honest. The defence tried to intimidate her by showing her photographs of different buses and asking her to identify which one she was on. She was cross-examined about the particular type of bus doors that hit her.
Maureen simply told the judge that she had no idea she would have to remember such details of the bus 8 years later. She hadn’t taken any pictures and she hadn’t thought that she would need to remember this information. This was honesty was positively received by the judge.
Maureen's evidence was concrete. The judge awarded in her favour.
The judge awarded Maureen $614,690.64 in damages from the accident.
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This decision reinforces the importance of keeping a record of the circumstances of the accident, and your injuries.
Hindsight is 20/20. While it is difficult for all to have the foresight Maureen did and write down every aspect of their recovery, it is important to document all post-accident events where possible.
Written by Lucy Kelsey | Solicitor
* The names and narrative have been altered but the facts of the case in regards to payments, liability and the Judge's findings on the evidence are reported as written in the judgement.