UPDATED: Mar 13, 2020
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Witness statements play a crucial role in the car insurance claims process. Most people, however, have limited experience gathering witness statements after car accidents.
Today, we’re explaining everything you need to know about gathering witness statements after a car accident, including the specific things you need to ask witnesses to ensure a fair claims process.
Immediately Talk to Any Witnesses at the Scene
Your search for witness statements begins immediately after the car accident. Once the scene is stable and emergency services have been called (if necessary), you should start seeking out witnesses immediately.
Look around and find people who saw the accident. Make sure you talk to these people before they walk or drive away.
At the very least, get the names and contact information of any witnesses. Ideally, however, you’ll get a statement from each driver. Some lawyers recommend recording the witness statement: use your phone to take a video of the witness when explaining what he or she saw.
This is where the police also play a role. If there are serious injuries or damages from an accident, then the police are required to make a police report. That report will include statements from each driver along with any additional witness statements.
Based on this information, the police will do their best to determine fault. They might analyze skid marks at the intersection. They could interview each driver for signs of drug or alcohol impairment, check for signs of driver distraction, or look at the vehicles for any pre-existing mechanical defects.
In most cases, the police will simply secure the scene, then organize the information into a police report. Insurance companies will use this information – including any witness statements – to determine fault.
Police Officers May Not Always Collect Witness Statements
You cannot depend on police officers to collect witness statements. If the accident hasn’t caused severe injuries or damages, then the police may not bother to collect witness statements.
Police officers don’t care which driver is going to pay for damages. They care about enforcing criminal actions like drunk or reckless driving or giving citations to drivers who broke traffic laws.
In this situation, it’s particularly important to gather witness statements yourself. Talk to people around the scene of the accident, get their contact information, and collect written or video statements of what they saw.
How to Find Witnesses After a Car Accident
You may be surprised at how many people witness a car accident. There are other drivers on the road. Cars have passengers. Businesses have security cameras. Here are some of the potential witnesses to speak with after an accident:
Occupants of Cars Involved: Talk to occupants of both vehicles to determine what they saw. Passengers in your own vehicle may be able to tell your side of the story, while passengers in the other vehicle might provide a clearer narrative from the other direction. Obviously, some passengers (like friends and family) will be biased towards their drivers, but they can still provide valuable information.
Good Samaritans: Good Samaritans might see an accident and stop to help. These Good Samaritans might have seen various details of the accident. A Good Samaritan witness might claim to have seen a cell phone in the other driver’s lap prior to the accident, for example, or other situations that led to the crash.
Workers in Nearby Businesses: Workers in nearby businesses might have seen the accident, especially if the accident happened in a parking lot or commercial area. Consider walking into nearby businesses to see if anyone saw the accident.
Pedestrians: Pedestrians walking by might have seen the crash and various details of the accident. If any pedestrians are milling around after an accident, consider asking those pedestrians for their names and contact information.
Road Workers or Construction Workers: Any workers on the street at the time of the accident may have seen the collision. Accidents are particularly common in and around construction zones, where there are plenty of hazards to be aware of.
Witness Credibility Matters
Some accidents are contentious. Both drivers claim to be 0% at fault. It may come down to one lawyer arguing against another lawyer in court.
As with any legal case, witness credibility is crucial. The other insurance company’s legal team might challenge the credibility of any witness who wears glasses or has a criminal record, for example. They will also challenge the credibility of any witnesses related to you – like friends and family.
Ultimately, witness credibility is a normal part of legal proceedings. It shouldn’t deter you from collecting as many witness statements as possible after an accident. Your attorney can decide which witness statements represent the best path forward for your case.
Witness Statements Support Different Aspects of your Claim
Witness statements play a crucial role in the claims process. They support various aspects of the claim:
Support Claims of Innocence: A witness statement might support a claim of innocence. A witness might claim that you were going the speed limit and paying attention to the road when another driver served in front of you, for example.
Support Claims of Guilt: A witness statement might also support claims of guilt. The witness might explain that the other driver was texting at the time of the accident, for example.
Support Claims of Injury: A witness statement could support claims of injury. The witness might have seen visible injuries – like a gash on the head – after an accident.
Discredit Claims of Injury: At the same time, a witness statement could discredit claims of injury. The witness might have observed the other driver walking around perfectly fine and uninjured after the accident, for example.
Many car accidents come down to one driver’s word against the other’s. By gathering accurate witness statements, you can ensure a fair claims process and avoid being found at-fault for an accident that was not your fault.