Collecting Car Accident Evidence to Help Your Claim: Keys to Proving Your Case

Strong evidence helps you get the insurance settlement you deserve after a car accident. Here’s what you need to know about collecting evidence for injury claims.

People are injured every day by careless drivers. You could be driving, walking, riding a bike, or a vehicle passenger when the collision occurs.

When you’ve been hurt by a negligent motorist, you have a right to expect fair compensation for your damages. For most of us, this means filing an auto accident claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance company.

Good evidence is the key to a successful insurance claim. We’ll tell you how and where to get the evidence you need to:

  1. Prove the at-fault driver is responsible for your injuries
  2. Prove the severity of your physical injuries
  3. Prove the extent of your pain and suffering

Types of Evidence You’ll Need to Collect

The burden is on the accident victim to prove the insured driver was responsible for their injuries. Evidence you’ve collected at the scene and afterward will help prove fault.

Once the insurance adjuster accepts liability on behalf of the insured driver, your next hurdle is proving the scope of your injuries. Here again, good evidence will document the scope and severity of your injuries.

You or your attorney will rely on physical and circumstantial evidence to support your car accident claim.

Collecting Physical Evidence

Physical evidence is something you can see and touch, such as:

  • Medical records
  • Witness statements
  • Photographs
  • Police reports
  • Torn and bloodied clothing
  • Public records, including driving records
  • Your written narrative of the accident

Look for Circumstantial Evidence

Evidence that’s implied or suggested is called “circumstantial.” Circumstantial evidence may not directly prove the at-fault party’s liability, but it can still help shape your claim.

Let’s say a college student ran a red light and violently crashed into the side of your car, leaving you with severe injuries.

You’ve retained a personal injury attorney who issued a subpoena for the at-fault driver’s cell phone records. The phone records are physical evidence that proves texts were sent at the exact time of the accident.

If the driver was alone in the car, the cell phone records are proof the driver was negligently texting while driving.

On the other hand, if there was a passenger in the car, the cell phone evidence is circumstantial. After all, it may have been the passenger texting on the driver’s cell phone at the time of the accident.

Additional evidence, like a witness statement, can confirm the driver was texting at the time of the accident, but the circumstantial evidence alone may help convince a jury that the driver was distracted.

Vital Evidence from the Crash Scene

Just about every motor vehicle accident presents a short window of opportunity for collecting important types of evidence. There’s no better time than immediately after the collision. That’s when the evidence is fresh and most accessible. Once that window closes, evidence becomes more difficult to come by.

Photographic Evidence Doesn’t Lie

Do your best to take photos after the car crash.

Use your cell phone to take photographs and video of the surrounding area, including:

  • The vehicles and their relative positions
  • Close-ups of the car damages
  • The accident scene, including traffic signals and stop signs
  • Debris on the road from the accident, like car parts and broken glass

It’s impossible to take too many photos and videos after a car accident. Take pictures from as many angles as safely possible.

Don’t refuse or delay medical attention to try and gather evidence. Your health comes first. Refusing medical care at the scene can seriously undermine your injury claim.

Get Witness Information Quickly

Witness statements can be powerful evidence. Independent, third-party witness statements carry a lot of weight with insurance adjusters because the witness has no personal or financial interest in your claim.

Witnesses can also provide evidence you may have overlooked at the time of the injury. For example, a witness might have overheard the at-fault driver say he didn’t see you or was texting right before the accident.

Information from an independent witness can be strong evidence of the at-fault driver’s negligence and can help prove the extent of your injuries.

Bystanders have no legal obligation to stick around, so try to get witnesses’ information quickly, before they leave the scene.

Return to the Scene as Soon as Possible

Return to the scene of the accident to gather additional evidence as soon as possible. You might be surprised to see some items you missed. With auto accidents, there might be some broken car parts, skid marks, or other evidence that contributed to the accident, but was overlooked at the time of the collision.

If you’re in no condition to investigate the scene of your injury, ask a trusted friend or family member to go look around, take pictures, and make detailed notes about what they see. Even better, hire a personal injury lawyer. If you’re seriously injured, you need an experienced car accident attorney to ensure your rights are protected.

Be prepared to take more photographs and videos of the scene, especially if the accident happened at night and you’re returning in daylight.

You can never have too many photos. The first few days immediately following an accident are often when you uncover evidence you may have missed at the actual time of the injury.

The Importance of Police Crash Reports

If police respond to your accident they will complete an accident report after they leave the scene. You’re entitled to a copy of this report. The format of police reports varies from state to state, but all accident reports include certain key information.

The police report should include most of the following information:

  • Accident Date: Make sure the accident date and time are correct. A police officer may complete multiple reports in a day, and can easily make mistakes. The accident date determines when the statute of limitations expires, which is important if you later have to file a lawsuit.
  • Accident Location: Like the date, the location is pretty basic information. Make sure the police noted the correct address.
  • People Involved: The report will include your name, the names of any passengers in your car, the name and address of the person who hit you, and any passengers in their car.
  • Vehicle Information: The report will note the make and model of all cars involved, as well as the vehicle identification numbers (VIN). The owner of the other car will also be identified. This is important because there may be additional insurance coverage if the owner of the vehicle was not the driver.
  • Witnesses: Any witnesses to the collision should be identified by name, address, and phone number. Impartial witnesses can be especially helpful if their statement backs up your side of the story.
  • Diagrams: The police officer may draw a diagram of what they saw at the scene. The sketch typically will include the roadway or intersection where the collision occurred, the direction the cars were traveling, and the location of the cars after the collision.
  • Primary Cause of the Collision: The report will indicate the police officer’s final determination about who caused the collision. The report may also indicate other factors that contributed to the collision such as fog, snow, or setting sun.
  • Damages Assessment: This section notes the location and extent of vehicle damage to both your car and the car that hit you. The type and severity of property damage can help establish who’s at fault.
  • Insurance Information: The police report should identify the insurance companies providing coverage for each vehicle involved. Insurance contact information is the starting point for you to file your claim.
  • Charges: Finally, the report will state if the police officer issued a ticket or charged any driver involved in the collision with DUI or other offenses.

Getting a Copy of the Police Report

The police report for your collision is public record and available upon request. Typically you can go directly to the investigating officer’s department to request a copy. Check the department’s website to see if you can order a copy online.

If the state police investigated your accident, you’ll have to go to their office or website for the report.

The law enforcement agency may charge a small fee for a copy of your report. If you have an attorney representing you, they will get a copy for you.

Document Physical and Emotional Injuries

You’re entitled to compensation for any medical expenses you incurred as a result of an accident caused by another driver. To recover these expenses, you must provide the insurance company with copies of your medical records and bills related to your injuries.

There may be a cost associated with obtaining copies of your medical records, though some states require doctors to provide free copies in order to preserve a payment lien.

Get All Your Medical Records and Bills

An auto accident can generate many different kinds of medical records and bills. You need to document everything related to your treatment following the accident.

Records that may apply to your claim include:

  • EMS/Ambulance Records: If your accident was serious enough to call an ambulance, there will be a separate bill for those services. There may be an EMS record even if you didn’t take an ambulance to the hospital. Request these records and bills directly from the responding EMS unit or check the city or county website.
  • Hospital Records: Even if you were only evaluated in the emergency room and released, there will be records and bills for that ER visit. You can get copies of those records from the hospital. Request copies of X-rays, CT scans, MRIs, or any other expensive tests you underwent.
  • Doctor Records: Medical records prepared by your treating doctor are essential to your claim. These records describe the extent of your injuries, your required medical treatment, and establish whether you need ongoing care. All your doctors will have separate bills you need to obtain.
  • Physical Therapy Records: Your doctor may refer you to physical therapy or rehab to treat your injuries and restore your previous level of functioning. You need copies of those records and bills.
  • Pharmacy Records: Don’t forget your medications. You’re entitled to recover the cost of any medication needed to treat your injuries for as long as you need it.
  • Travel Expenses: Document your mileage for trips to and from the doctor, hospital or physical therapist, as well as any other travel related to your treatment. For example, if you had to stay in a hotel to see an out-of-town specialist, save the receipts for the hotel and any meals you bought.
  • Other Records: The records listed above are typical for injury claims, but don’t let others slip through the cracks. For example, if your injury required you to use crutches, a wheelchair, or some other medical device, you’ll need to get proof of those costs.

Pictures of Your Injuries

In addition to photographs and videos of the accident scene, take photos of your injuries immediately after the accident and throughout your recovery. Documenting stitches, bruising, or abrasions can help maximize your compensation.

Videos that show you walking with crutches or having other difficulties because of the accident are a great way to help prove your damages to the insurance adjuster.

Evidence of Pain and Suffering

If you’ve fully recovered from relatively mild injuries, you can probably negotiate a fair settlement directly with the insurance company. You can reasonably ask for one or two times the amount of your medical bills to compensate for your pain and suffering.

The dollar value of pain and suffering in serious injury claims can easily be as much as five times the amount of the total medical expenses. But you can’t get high-dollar settlements on your own, you’ll need an experienced car accident lawyer.

Aside from medical records documenting obviously painful injuries, you can use dated and descriptive notes as evidence of the pain, suffering, and emotional distress caused by your injuries.

Keep a dated journal or diary to write about:

  • Daily pain levels
  • Sleep disturbances and nightmares
  • Stress or anxiety related to your accident or injuries
  • Humiliation from needing help with eating, getting dressed, bathing, or using the toilet
  • Loss of ability to care for children or another dependent
  • Depression and feelings of helplessness

How to Prove Lost Wages and Income

You’re entitled to compensation for any wages or other income you lost if you were unable to work because of accident-related injuries. The documents you’ll need depend on the nature of your employment.

Full or Part-time Employees

If you’re employed by a company or individual, any or all of the following documents can help prove your lost wages:

  1. Tax Returns and W-2s: The easiest and most reliable way to establish your lost wages is from the previous year’s tax return.
  2. Pay Stubs: Your most recent pay stubs will show your weekly, bimonthly, or monthly wages. Your paystub can also show any raises or bonuses that weren’t included in last year’s tax return. In most states, lost wages are based on your gross pre-tax earnings.
  3. Employer Wage Verification: Ask your employer to provide a statement verifying your wages. It should include your salary or hourly pay, the number of hours you work in a week, and any overtime pay you typically get.

Self Employed

If you’re self-employed or work strictly on commission, you may have to work harder to establish your lost income. Documents that can help include:

  1. Tax Returns: Last year’s tax returns can establish your prior income but may not accurately reflect this year’s income. Self-employed people often experience ups and downs in pay. Before using last year’s tax return, make sure it accurately shows how much you expect to make this year.
  2. Bank Records: Bank records showing deposits of business revenue are another way to establish how much income you lost.
  3. Contracts and Purchase Orders: Any contracts that call for you to provide goods or services will show your expected income for that period of time. Pending purchase orders do the same thing.

Include All Forms of Compensation

You’re entitled to compensation for any time you missed from work, even if you took vacation or sick leave to deal with your injuries.

Paid Time Off (PTO) used to treat your injuries is fully compensable. You can also include half-days and hours you missed from work to attend a doctor’s appointment or physical therapy.

You may be able to recover compensation for any lost opportunity you suffered due to your injuries. If the accident caused you to miss a job interview, the chance to earn a bonus, or the chance for a promotion, include those losses in your demand.

Prevent Spoliation (Destruction or Loss) of Evidence

Sometimes evidence that could be critical to your injury claim or lawsuit might be lost, altered, discarded, or otherwise “spoiled.” The legal term is “spoliation of evidence.”

Spoliation can happen accidentally or intentionally. To make sure important evidence is preserved for your injury claim, you or your attorney will send a “spoliation letter” to the business or person who has custody of the evidence.

In car accident cases, evidence may be in the possession of:

  • The at-fault driver
  • The at-fault driver’s estate (if the driver died)
  • The driver’s employer, if it was a company vehicle
  • The insurance company

The spoliation letter puts the appropriate person on notice to preserve the evidence without alterations. The letter also makes it harder for them to argue the evidence was destroyed accidentally or in the normal course of business.

If you don’t have an attorney, you can add spoliation language to your notification letter, which lets the at-fault party know you intend to pursue a car accident claim.

The spoliation language should describe the evidence to be preserved and make it clear that a lawsuit has been filed or may be filed if needed to resolve your claim.

Sample: Spoliation Language

This type of language may be inserted in your notice of claim letter:

Additionally, this letter will serve to provide you with notice that in anticipation of litigation you have an obligation to appropriately preserve and retain any items or information that may be relevant to my claim.

This includes, but is not limited to, the vehicle that was involved in the incident, photographs, video recordings, recorded audio or computer media, incident reports, and all other evidence relating to the subject vehicle collision, which is presently in your possession, or the possession of your employee or agent.

Please ensure this letter is provided to the appropriate person in your office who is charged with the custody of evidentiary items concerning this incident. It is imperative you do not dispose of, alter, or modify evidence in any manner. Disregarding these obligations may be considered spoliation of evidence.

YOU ARE HEREBY PUT ON NOTICE NOT TO DISPOSE OF, ALTER, MODIFY OR REMOVE THE ABOVE MENTIONED EVIDENCE, OR ANY OTHER RELATED RECORDS.

If evidence is destroyed, there’s not much you can do about it outside of a courtroom. If your car accident case does go to trial, your attorney will ask that the jury be instructed to assume the missing evidence would have helped prove your case.

Video: How to Collect Evidence

 

Charles R. Gueli, Esq. is a personal injury attorney with over 20 years of legal experience. He’s admitted to the NY State Bar, and been named a Super Lawyer for the NY Metro area, an exclusive honor awarded to the top five percent of attorneys. Charles has worked extensively in the areas of auto accidents,... Read More >>