Circle Case Management’s multi-award-winning Expert Witness Panel is host to highly respected VRA award winner Maria Morris, an Occupational Therapist, Vocational Case Manager and Expert Witness
Here, Maria details what is expected of an Expert Witness and the difference this can make to the outcome in a life-changing injury case
Where did it all begin?
My career started as an Occupational Therapist in 1989. Since then I have gained extensive clinical experience, at times managing an extremely varied caseload, working with clients who have suffered life-changing injuries and illnesses impacting physical or mental health.
I have worked with thousands of clients and in many organisations including Government, injured military personnel and employees of the royal household.
How did that lead to becoming an Expert Witness?
My first expert work assisting other Occupational Therapist Experts began around 20 years ago. I had suffered my own personal injury in the NHS caused by a faulty piece of equipment.
I was forced to change my career as a result. Using the funds I received from my personal injury claim, I set up a private practice. I wanted to help others overcome disability and injury.
As I understand what people go through with pain or ongoing health symptoms and I understand the frustrations that come with a personal injury claim. I resumed expert work with Circle Case Management following completing updated training with Bond Solon approximately two years ago.
Vocational Rehabilitation and Occupational Therapy – do they cross over?
I get asked often for a combination of the two expert reports!
Recent cases included people needing some of my specialist skills to provide an opinion of how best to manage visual impairment, brain injury, complex orthopaedic injury and complex regional pain syndrome.
Ages vary from a young adult at college, to adults who are working or looking to return to work plus those over retirement age still wanting to be active and live a purposeful life.
My reports help people have an increased sense of purpose and live a more meaningful enjoyable life after their injury or incident. For instance, someone with a brain and neck injury – Client X. He was a new father and was struggling as to how best to manage his symptoms of pain, fatigue, memory and multi-tasking needed at home and in his job. He was finding it challenging to stay in work and reduce arguments at home with his partner.
His case settled and I understand the majority of the recommendations made have now been implemented. Working more from home, adjustments to his workstation, work deadlines, regular contact with his manager, help with childcare, help with getting back to hobbies and knowing better how to manage fatigue.
Or a young man attempting to get into an apprenticeship with a visual impairment and dyslexia who needed emotional support to cope with his disability adjustment and some assistive technology to help him.
Or a retired woman who was very active not only suffering chronic pain from an arm injury but had several bereavements to cope with. She needed help with added transport as she cannot drive and lived in a rural area. She now has case management to help her coordinate appointments for rehabilitation, complete administrative tasks and manage an extensive wild meadow and garden which is her lasting legacy to the local community.
My expert OT reports focus on care costs, following injury or incident, current needs and helping predict their future needs. To help people regain more functional independence for daily tasks, get added structure, activities or work into their week.
Occupational Therapist expert reports could be providing recommendations for equipment or support with things like reading or writing, gardening, general personal hygiene and care, meals, mobility at home or out in the community, socialising, maintaining a hobby, gardening, DIY and where they live.
Vocational expert reports could include how best to return to studies, adjustments needed to their computer, office or work environment, identifying what type of work they can do if it’s not the same after their injury or incident or even identifying voluntary work prior to paid work as a steppingstone to paid work.
It can include how their injuries has impacted on their finances or work potential or identify what hours of work they may be able to manage given their symptoms.
What would you say to anyone considering a career in Expert Witness services?
Get specific expert training. Read the rules required to be an expert.
Each profession usually has advice or guidance as to how to be an expert or requirements. Bond Solon courses on how to be an expert witness and general expert report writing skills.
I am excited to be attending a new vocational expert specific course with Bond Solon. If anyone is interested get in touch with Circle Case Management on email@example.com, or Bond Solon directly.
What are your tips for becoming a successful Expert Witness?
My approach is to always think outside the box. Get creative in making an instant rapport with people so they relax and feel at ease. You get more useful information to write your expert reports that way.
Litigation can be a stressful process. It’s important to put people at ease. Talk to peers in the expert field already. Work alongside another expert when starting out for a few cases to help them with a case to get an idea of what’s needed. Help them with the research or costings even though they write the final report.
Ensure you have a peer or colleague proof read reports, check any costs or complex material plus act as a sounding board for your opinions so you could justify them clearly if needed. If you are questioned, stand in your expert power.
Do not let anyone brow beat you. Back up your opinion with research and experience. Be willing to compromise if needed.
Use a good ergonomic workstation station for your comfort. Use voice dictation to save extensive typing or get administrative help to type reports in the correct format.
Keep reports as short and succinct as possible. If a solicitor, barrister or judge were to pick up the report with only 15-20 minutes to spare would they know where to find the information they need in each section easily? Or within a relevant appendix? Break up the reports into text, tables and bullet points to ease reading. Have a clear and concise summary of your findings and opinions.
Know your boundaries and skillset. Only take a case if you feel competent to handle it.If you do not enjoy writing reports or doing the detailed work, then avoid doing expert work.
Expert work is not just about a perceived “easier way” to make money. It’s a highly skilled, responsible role and requires dedicated work. You need patience, perseverance, and accuracy.
Finally, remember the quote by Helen Hayes “The Expert at Anything was once a beginner” so don’t be afraid of trying it out to see if it works for you. And avoid the quote by Colin Powell who says, “Experts often have more data than judgement”.
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