Witness statements can be powerful evidence of fault. Third-party witnesses are independent and unbiased. Unlike statements from drivers and their passengers, whose opinions are influenced by their own self-interest, independent witnesses don’t have personal or financial interest in the outcome.
To prevail in your personal injury claim, you’ll need to prove your injuries were caused by the negligent acts of another person or entity, referred to as the at-fault party. Securing witness statements as evidence is crucial to proving your case.
Other effective evidence in car accident claims:
- Police accident reports
- Visible property damage
- Photographs and videos
- Medical records and bills
- Drivers’ and passengers’ statements
Securing Witness Statements
The immediate aftermath of a car accident can be chaotic. An injured victim’s first thoughts are not about talking to strangers. They’re focused on their injuries, vehicle damage, and calling the police or paramedics. If a claimant injures themself further, by moving around after an accident in an attempt to gather evidence, it can actually hurt their claim.
Your first priority after an accident must be to get medical attention for your injuries. Always take care of your health and well-being first, before worrying about gathering evidence (known as “mitigating” your damages). Don’t do anything that may exacerbate your injuries.
If you are physically able, however, you should take steps to help your potential claim…
A car accident victim can take advantage of the time between the collision and the police arriving. During that brief period, begin your search for witnesses who might help with your personal accident report. The more detail in your report, the better. You’ll probably only have one opportunity to take witness statements, so try to collect as many as possible.
Eyewitnesses to car accidents may be:
- Drivers and occupants of other cars involved in the accident
- People who stopped to render aid
- Adjacent business owners, employees, and customers
- Road and utility workers
As soon after the accident as possible, grab a camera, pen, and something to write on. If you don’t have a digital camera, use your cell phone camera. Approach people who may have witnessed what happened. Identify yourself, and ask if anyone saw the accident. If so, politely ask them to describe what they saw and heard.
Speaking with Witnesses
Don’t argue your side of the story. The witness may feel like you’re trying to manipulate him. Saying things like, “That guy is going to pay!” or “You saw him run that light, didn’t you?” and other similar leading statements can alienate the witness. He may feel you’re insulting his intelligence, or making a blatant attempt to inflame the situation.
Ask the witness to write down what he saw and heard, in as much detail as possible. If he can’t or won’t, you may have to write it for him. Statements don’t have to be formal documents…
- The witness does not have to write his statement in a legal format.
- The type of paper doesn’t matter.
- The statement doesn’t need to be notarized or witnessed.
- Anyone who witnessed the accident can write a statement.
Have the witness sign and date the bottom of each page.
Take a photograph of each witness holding their statement in front. This way, you’ll have an easier time later associating each witness with their statement. Finally, ask the witness to write their contact information at the end. You want a home address, telephone number(s), and email address.
If the witness is in a rush, and unable to give their statement at the time of the accident, just get their name and contact information. You can send a letter afterward, requesting a detailed statement when they have time.
Here’s a template for a letter requesting a witness statement. Don’t forget to include a self-addressed, stamped envelope to make it as easy as possible for the witness to provide their statement.
Searching for Witnesses
Once the accident scene is cleared, take a look at homes or businesses in sight of the accident. It’s possible someone was at home or in a store when they saw the collision through a window.
Walk into stores and ask if any of the employees saw the accident. Then look for homes in the line of sight of the accident. The more people you speak with, the greater your chances of finding one who can confirm the other driver’s fault.
Non-human “Eyewitness” Evidence
Additional witness testimony for your auto accident claim can be found in store surveillance video and ATM camera footage. Many stores, especially large national chains like Wal-Mart and Home Depot, have outside video cameras that can record up to several hundred feet away from the source.
If your car accident occurred on a street adjacent to one of these stores, you may have one of the purest forms of witness testimony. Video captures the truth.
Stop in and ask to speak with the store’s manager. See if you can view the video recorded at the time of the accident. Store policy could prevent the manager from allowing you to view it, but it’s worth a shot.
Most ATM machines are fitted with two cameras, one for close-ups, and another to record the surrounding environment. If your accident occurred in the parking lot of a bank or business with an ATM machine outside, the incident may have been recorded.
Unfortunately, it’s unlikely a bank will voluntarily grant access to their ATM footage. To get the footage, you’ll likely need to have an attorney serve the bank a subpoena. If you have reason to believe the footage is critical to your claim, you should hire an attorney to send a spoliation of evidence letter immediately.
Responding police officers are trained to preserve evidence. Police will take statements from witnesses at the scene, but often don’t make much of an effort to seek them out. That’s up to you. Give the police officer any witness information you obtain, and ask to have it included in their report.
Before the police leave, make sure you get the officers’ names, badge numbers, and the service number of their accident report. You’ll need to pick up a copy of the report a few days afterward.
How Effective Are Witness Statements?
The claims adjuster will read each witness statement you provide. Then she’ll contact the witnesses and ask each of them for a recorded statement. She’ll want to know if they:
- Are related to you or the other driver
- Knew you or the other driver before the accident
- Have any personal or financial interest in the outcome of the claim
Although witness statements can be very helpful in your claim, the statements by themselves are hearsay, and as such, may not be admissible in court. If your case goes to trial, each witness must show up in court to testify.
Nevertheless, a claims adjuster knows that the more witness statements you have, the stronger your case will be if it goes to trial. Adjusters take all legitimate witness statements seriously. Do your best to gather as many as possible.
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