How Can Eyewitnesses for Your Auto Accident Help Your Legal Claim?
In every car accident case, each driver may have their own side of the story. Facing significant potential legal liability, a driver may hesitate to admit what they did. They may make up a story that changes reality and turns the blame around on you. In many cases, it is your word against the other driver’s. This is how an eyewitness can help your legal claim in the case of your word versus the other drivers.
If you end up in a so-called truth contest, you may not prove liability. In that event, you may not be in a position to receive financial compensation for your injuries because a settlement check depends on proving that someone else was at fault.
Therefore, success in your car accident case depends on gathering the evidence you need to show that someone else was negligent. For your purposes, negligence means that the other driver acted unreasonably under the circumstances. A car accident lawyer can assist you in gathering evidence and setting up a claim.
To meet all four elements of the legal test of negligence, you must show what the driver did. Then, you will compare it to what a reasonable driver will have done under the circumstances. If the driver in your accident has fallen short, they will have violated their duty of care. They will then have a legal obligation to pay you for all the damages that you have sustained.
The Other Driver May Tell a Far Different Story
You may have your own version of events that describes what this driver did. However, they may completely deny your story. The insurance companies, having to decide between the truth of the story related by two different drivers, may simply opt to stay out of the dispute. As a result, they may deny your claim.
It is a different story when one or more people saw what happened. Then, other people will corroborate your side of the story. Suddenly, a situation in which it is your word against that of the other driver becomes one that supports your word with testimony. The other driver’s story will look much more implausible when contradicted by testimony from one or more witnesses.
Witness Testimony Helps at All Stages of Your Claim
Witnesses can be helpful if you have filed a claim with the other driver’s insurance company. You can include witness statements with your claim, and the insurance companies may seek to interview those witnesses. The adjuster may set up a phone conference or face-to-face meeting with witnesses.
If your personal injury case goes to trial, eyewitnesses may be the most vital thing in your favor. You can’t use the police report as evidence in your case because it will run afoul of hearsay rules. Therefore, direct testimony may be the most persuasive thing that the jury can see.
Find Objective Third Party Witnesses if Possible
Eyewitness testimony is even more helpful when it comes from third parties who have no prior relationship with you. These individuals are the most objective because they have no financial interest in their testimony. Although testimony from people in the car with you is important, these people may also be friends or family members. The jury may give their testimony a little less weight because they may be considered extensions of you. This is not to say that no one will ever believe testimony from people close to you, but it may be considered less credible.
Potential Witnesses for Your Car Accident Case
The following people may make helpful witnesses in your car accident case:
- Drivers, passengers, and surrounding cars
- Police officers who showed up at the scene and noticed the conditions
- Passengers in your car provided that they are not biased
Police officers can only testify about what they found when they showed up at the scene of your accident.
These findings can include:
- The general conditions at roughly around the time of the accident
- What they saw when they showed up at the scene
- The position of the wreckage
- Whether they issued a citation to any of the drivers
This testimony does not include an officer’s actual observation of what a driver did. For example, if an illegal lane change caused the accident, the police officer will not have seen that firsthand. Another driver in the vicinity might have seen that. If they can testify to that fact, it might be the evidence that you need to prove negligence.
You Cannot Always Speak With Witnesses Yourself
However, it is not always easy to speak with other people at the scene of your car accident. If you are in a position where you are filing a lawsuit or claim, you may not be in the physical position to interview people because you are dealing with your physical injuries.
The police officer who shows up at the scene of the accident may speak with the witnesses to write down what they saw. The accident report may contain witness recollections. It may also contain their contact information and how to reach them.
If you can speak with car accidents witnesses:
- Their phone number and address
- Contact information for someone who can reach them
- A general idea of what they witnessed and what they might testify to
- Their general positioning and vantage point at the time of the accident
Your cell phone recording device can be beneficial in these circumstances. However, most car accident victims are not in a physical condition where they can take advantage of this helpful tool. You may also want to leave the substantive conversation about the accident to your attorney once you have one.
Even if you cannot physically speak with the witness at the scene, ensure that the police officer knows that someone saw the crash. Be sure to point the officer in the general direction of the witness. The officer may then speak with the witness and ask about the accident as part of their investigation.
You Want the Witness Help
In some cases, the witness will cooperate. Chances are that they saw a serious accident, and they may sympathize with the person injured by the actions of another. The most important thing is not to antagonize a witness. You want and need them on your side as you seek financial compensation. You can subpoena a witness if they do not want to testify, but that is the last thing you want to do to them. It is best to treat the witness as a valuable resource and not as someone to be adversarial toward in any way.
The witnesses themselves will need to testify at a trial. If you were trying to use the accident report to relay the witness’s testimony, the defendant can strike that at trial because it is hearsay. Their attorney will need to speak with the witnesses to cross-examine them. Otherwise, they may not testify at all based on the Civil Rules of Evidence.
Witness Testimony Can Quickly Disappear
You have limited time, due to Arizona Statute of Limitations, to contact witnesses and obtain their recollections after a car accident. If it is possible at the scene of the accident, try to at least get the witnesses’ contact information from them. Even if you cannot speak with them at the time of the accident, you can check back with them later to get their view of what happened.
If you do not speak with the witnesses shortly after the accident, you may lose the ability to contact them forever. You cannot always find people when you need them. In addition, recollections fade over time, especially when someone has never been asked about them before. As valuable as witness testimony can be, you can easily lose it through the passage of time. Even if you are not in the physical condition to begin the legal process, you must do it immediately after your accident. The later you begin your case, the harder it becomes to prove.
Your Lawyer Knows How to Find and Speak With Witnesses
An experienced attorney knows how to interview and speak with witnesses after an accident. This skill is not necessarily one that you may have. Not only do you need to know how to interview a witness, but you must also know how to elicit their testimony properly. For example, certain types of questions work better to obtain the witnesses’ recollection. These questions should be directed to obtain precisely what the witness saw instead of asking them to speculate. If a witness is speculating, their testimony will be less than useful to you.
It is always better to ask open-ended questions than those that the witness can answer with a yes or no. Your aim is to get the witness talking and providing as much information as possible. Your attorney can determine which of this information is more helpful to you. However, you also want to know the aspects that may be less helpful to you because these may arise during questioning at trial.
If your case goes to trial, you must know how to question the witness to establish facts for the jury effectively. An attorney who has spent time in court knows exactly how to effectively question a witness. They also know how to guard against improper questions during cross-examination.
Your Lawyer Would Also Work to Gather Other Evidence
Speaking with witnesses is one reason you need to hire an experienced car accident lawyer as soon as possible after your crash. As soon as you hire your lawyer, they will get to work investigating what happened in your car accident. Their goal is to get the evidence necessary to persuade the other driver’s insurance company to admit liability.
If you cannot find car accident witnesses, your attorney might locate other sources of evidence that can help prove your case. Of course, witnesses are the best direct evidence that can help you.
Nonetheless, here are some other helpful proof for your case:
- Pictures from the scene of the accident
- Skid marks on the ground
- The wreckage from the accident
- Dashcam footage from your car or other drivers in the area
- Testimony from an accident reconstruction expert who will offer their opinion on the cause of the crash
- The police report (as explained earlier, you cannot use this at trial)
Usually, your attorney will use some combination of the above list, including witness testimony, when available. Everything depends on what is available to you at the time. Your lawyer will use their judgment as to what works best for your case. The stronger your evidence, the more likely the insurance company may need to be more reasonable in settlement negotiations. The last thing that they want is to be up in court against a solid case. Then, it may cost them far more than they might have had to pay in a settlement agreement.
Never Try to Prove Your Car Accident Case on Your Own
All of these sources of evidence may be difficult for you to obtain on your own after the accident. You will not receive the benefit of the doubt if your case is missing key pieces of evidence. You cannot expect insurers or adverse parties to simply take your word for what happened and who caused your crash.
An experienced personal injury attorney knows how and where to get these pieces of evidence for your case. Without anything else, you may have an uphill battle when trying to obtain financial compensation for your injuries. When you hand your case over to an experienced attorney, they will handle all the details. They will do everything in their power to put you in the best possible legal position in the future.
When you hire a lawyer, they can handle all communications with eyewitnesses. When you have injuries, the last thing you need is to contact people – who might be complete strangers – and ask for them to provide a statement or testimony. Your car accident attorney is accustomed to making these calls and ensuring you have the necessary eyewitness evidence to prove your claim. Contact us today to receive your consultation and learn more on how we can assist your case.