In the dazed moments that you experience after a vehicle accident, it can be hard to remember all of the steps that you need to take. It might be handy to make a short list on paper to put in your glove box, or you can even type a reminder on your smartphone for use after a collision.
One of the steps that can be easily forgotten is to identify witnesses at the scene of an accident. To complete this step, you might need to rely on the kindness of strangers who step forward and say, “I saw the whole thing.” Those types of Good Samaritans can help your case a lot if there is a dispute over fault after the accident.
Our legal system pays close attention to the testimony of eyewitnesses, who are scrutinized regarding their credibility if their testimony seems particularly damaging to one side or the other. An impartial witness at the scene of an accident can help you immeasurably in court. A competent car accident attorney will help you to track down the witnesses to your accident and lead them gently to tell the truth as it helps your case.
Witnesses can not only help to determine who was at fault during a given crash, they can testify about a variety of other topics at the time of the accident: the weather, the density of traffic, the sounds that occurred, the injuries that were apparently suffered as each driver and passengers in the vehicles moved after the accident or got out of the vehicle, etc. A good witness can be a treasure trove of information during an accident case in court.
Again, a good car accident lawyer will prep a witness to testify in your favor by establishing his/her eye for detail as s/he is asked various questions about the accident. Details such as how quickly the vehicles were moving at the time of the accident can be invaluable in a case, as well as mental notes (or even photos taken) about the severity of the collision.
The witness in your case can come from many places, such as:
- A pedestrian who saw the accident in plain view
- Someone in another vehicle (as driver or passenger) who witnessed the accident. Bus riders can be a good source because of their often-elevated view of the scene
- Passengers in your own vehicle at the time of the accident
If you do identify a witness, or have someone come forward shortly after the accident volunteering to serve as one, get the person’s contact information. This can be in the form of a business card, telephone number or other identifying document.
Once you have tabbed someone as a witness, it is best that a car accident attorney contact the person. S/he will know how to coach the witness in a way that is most beneficial to your case. If a witness comes into the courtroom unprepared, s/he can actually ruin your case if you are not careful. It’s best to leave this type of witness coaching to the experts. That’s one of many good reasons to hire a skilled car accident attorney.
Witnesses are sometimes loathe to “get involved” in legal proceedings (who knows what their personal history is?) or might be reluctant to give time and energy to your case. A persuasive car accident lawyer can get your witness into the courtroom and ready to help you. The car accident attorney can weed out harmful answers and an inaccurate perspective long before the case reaches a judge.
For instance, your witness might have a terrible sense of time and speed. S/he might say, “I think the cars were going at least 40 miles per hour” when, in fact, the police officer at the accident scene had already established a speed in the 20-30 mph range. Such distortion of the facts, through a faulty perception, can doom your eyewitness’ testimony—and your case.
Witnesses also need to portray total objectivity in the case. They should not be told to “back up” what you say or repeat the “facts” as you perceived them. If you both go into the case with the exact same speed estimates and descriptions of damage, the witness’ testimony can be questioned. An experienced car accident lawyer will know exactly how to guide the witness to give a testimony beyond reproach, not too similar to yours and not too different.
Finding witnesses to your accident is only step 1. You then need to get their information, have a car accident attorney contact them, and then have your attorney counsel them as to what they should say in court. Ideally, they will need minimal coaching and can simply relate what they saw and heard, which will buttress all that you and your car accident attorney have also said. This is a strong winning formula for your car accident case.