A good witness can mean the difference between recovering damages after a motor vehicle accident and being liable to the other party for their damages. But finding witnesses can be a challenge.
Here are a few things to keep in mind.
Time is of the essence
Locating a witness days or months after an accident can be difficult. Even if you’re able to find the witness, the person may no longer remember the details of the accident. Furthermore, a significant time lapse affects the witness’s credibility in the eyes of the judge and jury.
Even though you will understandably be shaken up following your accident, you’ll want to begin the process of identifying witnesses as soon as you are able to ensure that you’re safe.
Types of witnesses
The most obvious witnesses to a car accident are the passengers of the vehicles involved in the collision. However, because these individuals are often friends and family members of the drivers, their statements, while important, are less credible.
On the other hand, there are often a number of unbiased and sometimes overlooked witnesses to an accident such as:
- Drivers and passengers in other vehicles
- People in adjacent buildings
- Emergency responders
Keep in mind that even if a witness didn’t observe the actual collision, they may still be able to provide valuable information.
For example, a witness may have observed one of the drivers failing to use their turn signal. Similarly, a witness who didn’t observe the actual collision may have seen that one of the drivers appeared injured or inebriated after the accident. Witnesses might also overhear damaging statements made by drivers or passengers that, depending on the circumstances, might be admissible in court.
Information to get from witnesses
Witnesses are notoriously difficult to track down after an accident. For this reason, it’s important to obtain as much contact information as possible from each witness. This includes their:
- Home and work addresses
- Home and work telephone numbers
- Telephone numbers of someone close to the witness (such as a spouse)
Once you obtain the witness’s contact information, you will want to determine:
- Where the witness was positioned at the time of the accident
- What the witness saw and heard
- Where the witness was coming from and going to
If the witness is cooperative and their statements support your claim, ask them to draft and sign a brief statement recounting what they saw. Some cell phones even have voice recording programs that you can use to obtain a recorded statement. Keep in mind that you want the witness to be on your side. So, if the witness seems uncomfortable or agitated, simply take down their contract information and avoid pushing the envelope.
Finally, be sure to alert the responding police officer to any helpful witnesses. Most police officers will attempt to locate and speak to witnesses on their own, but you don’t want to leave such an important task entirely up to them.
Finding witnesses long after an accident
As mentioned above, identifying and locating a witness days or months after an accident can be challenging. However, there are a couple of resources that might help:
Police reports are available to the public (the process of obtaining a police report varies by state). The police report will list all witnesses identified by the responding officer along with their contact information.
Canvasing the scene
If there is no police report (or you believe there are additional unidentified witnesses), you can canvas the scene. Revisit the scene at the same time of day as the accident. Take a look at what’s around.
Are there people waiting for the bus who may have been waiting for the bus at the time of the accident? Who’s in the office that overlooks the spot where the accident occurred?
Put on your detective hat and attempt to locate possible witnesses.
One witnesses often leads to additional witnesses. Ask each witness you locate whether they remember anyone else at the scene.
What to do if you still can’t find witnesses?
Identifying and locating witnesses can be a real challenge, particularly when a lot of time has elapsed. Keep in mind that attorneys have a number of search tools at their disposal to locate witnesses. Moreover, attorneys can issue subpoenas to procure statements from uncooperative witnesses.
If you’re having trouble identifying and locating witnesses, don’t think you have to do it alone. Contact a personal injury lawyer sooner rather than later.