This article was originally published in the summer 1998 issue of the Expert Witness.
The Personal Injury Damages Partner (PIDP) has the potential to be a very useful research tool for anyone specialising in personal injury damages. The software is a CD ROM product ($1,200 for a one-year subscription, with updates 6 times per year – see www.carswell.com) that runs under Windows 95, 3.1, and NT. Carswell describes the content as follows:
The information includes Goldsmith’s Damages for Personal Injury and Death which consists of digests of cases dating back to 1935. As well, the full text of selected cases dating back to 1986 have been included. Personal Injury Damages Partner also contains cross-references and topical indices in the Find infobase.
Certainly the information contained on the CD will be valuable to anyone involved in personal injury cases. However, learning to access this information (i.e., learning the user-interface) could be a daunting task for the less-advanced computer user. The CD does not come with any documentation, not even basic set-up instructions on the disc case – an unfortunate oversight. Advanced users shouldn’t have too much trouble getting started, but Carswell should do some work to bring this program up to the “ease of use” level that is expected these days.
Once I learned the basics of the program, I found it easy to browse through different personal injury topics. For example, one can easily browse through summaries of cases by injury type: hip injuries, paraplegia, brain injuries, speech impairment, and so forth. The case summaries are hyper-linked to the full text judgments which can be read on screen or printed. You can also easily browse through cases which were heard by a specific judge. And there is a general index that you can use to browse the cases. Browsing by topic worked well, but I found the search engine frustrating – I was able to construct queries but the results were not linked to the full-text judgments, summaries, or even the case name. The program simply showed me paragraphs from unknown judgments with my query words highlighted. Some good query examples should have been provided with the software.
The “front-end” interface (called Folio 3.1) which is used to access and search through the information on the disc looks and acts vaguely like a Web browser – there are coloured hyperlinks which you double-click with the mouse to jump to the destination. The Folio program is fairly easy to use, but I think it would be much easier to get up to speed if Carswell could set up their database so we could use our own Web browser to navigate the database. Unfortunately, the program’s help system is specific to the Folio user-interface and does not offer help that is specific to the Personal Injury Damages Partner.
One obvious question is what advantage does this program have over QuickLaw? Two important ones come to mind. First, the program focuses on personal injury cases, so one is not searching or browsing among countless decisions that do not concern personal injury actions. Also, since the product is contained on a CD, searching and browsing is much faster, and the program is more portable, than using the QuickLaw on-line service. Of course the CD media also has its disadvantages over QuickLaw – the information on QuickLaw is always up-to-date, while the information on PIDP is always out-of-date. Hopefully Carswell will eventually allow the user to access the very latest information over the Internet, otherwise, for the personal injury specialist, the PIDP can only be a companion to QuickLaw, not a replacement (assuming that having up-to-date information is essential).
This could be a very useful product if Carswell would improve the ease-of-use and offer a manual and some decent on-line help. As it is, PIDP will be great if you are willing to invest in a lot of training time (or if you are already familiar with the Folio 3.1 interface); but if you have very little patience for software that is not easy to use, then your time will be better spent improving your QuickLaw skills.