How to find and speak with witnesses to your car accident, and why witness statements can be an important part of your insurance claim.
When you’ve been injured in a car accident caused by someone else, you expect full compensation for your injuries, lost wages, pain and suffering. Usually, that compensation will come from the other driver’s insurance company.
However, there’s more to a personal injury claim than just notifying the insurance company. You have to prove the other driver’s fault.
Here’s where you’ll learn how witness statements will support your auto accident claim.
Why Witness Statements are Important
Auto insurance companies have a duty to defend the people they insure against accusations of blame for car accidents. While that’s a noble reason to defend against claims, that fact is insurance companies don’t make a profit by paying settlements to people like you.
So, when you file a personal injury claim for compensation, you can expect the insurance adjuster to aggressively challenge your version of what happened.
To win your injury claim, you’ll have to prove the other driver was negligent, meaning they did something wrong or failed to drive responsibly, and that your injuries are a direct result of that negligence.
Witness statements can be powerful evidence the other driver was at fault for the collision that caused your injuries.
Witnesses who are not involved in the crash or connected with either driver 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 a personal or financial interest in the outcome.
Gathering independent witness statements as evidence can make or break your case if there is no other compelling proof of the other driver’s fault for the crash.
Witness evidence can be used to prove the other driver caused the accident, to defend yourself against accusations of blame for the crash, to validate your injuries, and to support your claims for pain and suffering.
Other effective evidence in car accident claims can include the police report, photographs and video taken after the accident, and your medical records and bills.
Witness Statements Help Win Lawsuits
Taking a written or recorded statement from witnesses at the accident scene can be invaluable to the success of your claim and help prove what occurred. With strong witnesses on your side, the other driver’s insurance company is more likely to settle your claim out of court.
If you do end up in court, witness statements are incredibly useful during testimony:
Evidence of inconsistent testimony: If a witness testifies against you in court, unless they repeat exactly what they alleged after the crash, your attorney can use their prior written statement as evidence they’ve changed their story.
Clear testimony: Your best witness may have a hard time remembering everything once they’re on the stand. Their prior written statement can be read aloud by the witness or used to help recall details.
Admissions of Fault: When the witness states they heard the other driver take the blame for the crash, that’s compelling testimony in your favor.
How to Get Witness Statements
Car accidents happen suddenly and violently. The situation can be chaotic, and you may be stunned by the sudden crash.
Your first priority after an accident is to get medical attention for your injuries. Call 911 to report the accident and ask for help.
Always take care of your health and well-being first, before worrying about gathering evidence. Don’t do anything that may worsen your injuries, and never refuse emergency medical attention at the scene.
If you make your injuries worse by moving around after an accident trying to gather evidence, it can hurt your insurance claim.
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, look for people who saw the accident and have information that may help your claim.
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
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.
Keep in mind, witnesses to car accidents have no legal obligation to talk to you or to stick around until the police arrive.
What Makes a Credible Witness
A credible witness is one who is reliable, honest, and trustworthy. You are better off with no witness than to use a witness statement that can be discredited. When you speak with a potential witness, try to determine:
- Does the witness know anyone involved in the accident?
- Did they see the entire accident as it happened?
- Was the witness busy with their phone, child, or anything else that distracted them from the crash?
- Is the witness a pedestrian?
- Was the witness driving, or a passenger from a vehicle not involved in the crash?
- Does the witness strike you as an honest, stable person who is believable?
- Does the witness have adequate vision and hearing to have observed what happened?
Tips for Speaking with Witnesses
Don’t argue your side of the story. The witness may feel like you’re pushing too hard. Saying things like, “That guy is going to pay!” or “You saw him run that light, didn’t you?” and similar leading statements can alienate the witness. The witness won’t cooperate if your behavior is alarming.
If you find a cooperative witness, ask the person to write down what they saw and heard, in as much detail as possible. If they aren’t comfortable writing, ask permission to write down what they say and have them sign and date the statement you wrote for them.
- 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.
You could also ask the witness who doesn’t want to write a statement if they would be willing to let you record them say what they saw (preferably by video) with your phone. Be sure the person gives their name and contact information.
Ask for the name, phone number, mailing address and e-mail address of any potential witness. If someone is too rushed to give a statement on the spot, you or your personal injury attorney can contact them later to arrange to take their statement.
Take advantage of this sample Witness Statement Request Letter and Form. Send it with a self-addressed, stamped envelope to make it as easy for the witness to return their written statement.
Expanding Your Search for Witnesses
Once the accident scene is cleared, 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 crash. 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.
Admissions Against Interest
The at-fault driver is certainly not an independent witness but may end up helping your claim by making excited statements like, “I’m so sorry, that was my fault!” or, “I only looked down for a minute, I didn’t see you!”
From a legal standpoint, judges and juries assume a person won’t make false statements or “admissions” against their own interest, so remarks made by the other driver can carry a lot of weight in your claim.
Of course, admissions against interest can work both ways, so be careful not to say anything after an accident that can be used against you.
Passengers in the other car may unintentionally help your claim. If the driver’s wife is yelling at him “I told you to slow down!” be sure you write that information down. Keeping detailed notes about the accident may help your claim considerably.
Security Cameras Make Great Witnesses
“Silent” witness testimony can be found in store surveillance video and security camera footage. Many stores, gas stations, and businesses have outside video cameras that can record up to several hundred feet away from the source.
If your car accident occurred adjacent to one of these stores, you might 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 see it, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.
If you’ve been injured in a car accident, talk to an experienced personal injury attorney about the value of your claim and how to subpoena business camera footage to support your claim.
Most ATMs are fitted with two cameras, one for close-ups, and another to record the surrounding environment. If your accident occurred in a bank parking lot or near a business with an ATM outside, the incident might have been recorded.
If your accident happened at an intersection, especially if the at-fault driver ran a red light, you may be able to ask for copies of film captured by municipal traffic cameras.
Police Reports Have Witness Statements
Law enforcement officers are trained in accident investigation, which includes interviewing available witnesses.
The investigating officer will take statements from witnesses at the scene, but often won’t make an effort to seek them out. That’s up to you.
Witnesses may not want to stay on the scene waiting while the officers take care of the injured, process the scene, and manage traffic. 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 investigating officer’s name 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. To verify their credibility, the adjuster will usually contact each witness to ask for a recorded statement.
The adjuster will want to know if any of the witnesses:
- 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 may not be enough to stand up 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 ends up in court.
Adjusters take all legitimate witness statements seriously. Do your best to gather as many as possible.
Video: Car Accident Witness Statements
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