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The customer is always right

There’s an old saying in business that the customer is always right.  You can see why it was coined, upset your customer, say goodbye to business, the logic seems undeniable.  However, as legal agents, are we able to be that flexible?  There’s no real problem when Mrs Gruttock insists on surrounding her lawn with daffodils when the gardener thinks shrubs will be more effective.  However, when we are asked to undertake tasks we have a responsibility to the courts as well as to our clients so it is a bit different.

Over the years we have been asked to check evidence submitted to the courts by our client’s opponents – usually sketch plans and photographs.  I’ve no doubt that there are occasions when someone on the “other side” queries our work and that is fine with me as we only submit evidence that is honest regardless of whether it suits one party more than the other.  Basically it is a “What we see is what you get” situation.

Sadly there are instances where what we are shown from other sources is definitely not what you would see at the site.  The usual discrepancies relate to distance which can be crucial where speed and visibility are factors in the case.  I’ve seen distances “shortened” by the use of a telephoto lens on the camera and then underestimated on the sketch plan.  It is only a sketch plan after all so nobody should expect 100% accuracy but a 50% discrepancy (seen a few years back) is stretching things too far.  Quite recently I realised that a plan showed a line of vision that did not exist.  I had reason to talk to the person who had prepared the plan (not one of our agents I would stress) and was told “That’s what my clients wanted”.  I suggested that doctoring a plan to mislead was hardly honest and to do it and sign the declaration on the paperwork was asking for trouble.  I could cite many more examples but will not bore you with them.

We take the view that we should tell our client exactly what is at an accident scene.  Some may suggest that anything unhelpful should not be conveyed to the client but if we don’t tell them the other side certainly will.  Worse still if that damaging information comes to light in the course of a court hearing where the judge might gain the impression that evidence had been suppressed.  If a lawyer is on a conditional or fixed fee case he/she wants to run a good solid case so weaknesses need to be exposed sooner rather than later – if the litigant is proven to be a liar in court it is not going to reflect well on the team that has been supporting that individual.  Costs allocation can be an effective form of “punishment” as we all know.

So, is the customer always right in any situation?  Claims handlers pay us to report to them and we endeavour to do so as accurately as possible – why pay for information and then ignore it?  At the end of the day we are trying to help our clients make an informed decision and if that is to tell a litigant his case is flawed or recommend to an insurer that a claim should be paid then so be it.  I am pleased to say that, fortunately, most of our investigations support our clients and then we are all happy!

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