Witnesses are a crucial element of any car accident lawsuit. Man accidents involve multiple drivers who may disagree about who is to blame for the accident. Unless fault is clear immediately, witnesses will likely be the determining factor in assigning liability for the accident. It’s essential to gather the contact information of all witnesses after a car accident if you are physically able.
The police who respond to the accident will likely ask witnesses several questions and include their responses in their report, and your attorney will likely cross-examine those witnesses and check their answers against those included in the police report. The defense will likely call witnesses as well, and both attorneys will have the opportunity to cross-examine witnesses during the trial phase. Every accident case is different, but there are some basic questions to ask any witness after any accident.
1. Can You Describe the Accident in Your Own Words?
A witness may not have been paying 100% attention to the situation as it unfolded, but you must still get an accurate recounting of what they did experience. Ask the witness what he or she saw and heard during the accident. Get the most specific information possible and ask about the vehicles involved, their directions of travel, any signs or indications that one or both drivers attempted to avoid the crash, such as swerving or honking horns.
2. Can You Remember Where You Were Exactly at the Time of the Incident?
Passersby will likely stop to look at an accident that occurs nearby, and it is important to get a witness’s point of view. Ask him or her where he or she stood during the accident, what else he or she remembers from the incident, and what he or she was doing. For example, a pedestrian walking down the street will likely have a much better view of a nearby accident than a driver who sees it through a rear-view mirror.
3. Describe What You Saw With as Much Detail as Possible
Human memory is not ironclad, and memory lapses can happen more quickly than you may expect. It is important to get the witness’s story directly from the witness. He or she will have likely already given the police a statement, and your attorney will want to hear his or her story again to cross-reference it against the story given to the police. Ask the witness for as much detail as possible.
- Ask what positions the vehicles involved in the accident were in prior to the accident.
- Ask what the witness’s position was relative to the scene of the accident.
- Ask whether either driver appeared to be speeding, swerving, or otherwise driving unsafely.
- Ask about the traffic signals nearby. For example, what color were the traffic lights at the intersection where the accident occurred?
- Ask if the witness observed moving violations. Did one of the drivers swerve into the opposing lane or make an illegal turn?
- Ask if the witness observed the drivers’ conditions after the accident. Did any of the drivers appear injured or intoxicated?
4. Is There Anything Else I Should Know About This Accident?
It’s possible for a witness to catch details that the police and accident scene investigators may have missed. Once you cover the basics, ask the witness about anything else that stuck out or appeared out of the ordinary. Some of the revelations gained in this way can be very surprising and have a tremendous amount of weight in a future lawsuit.
Witnesses are a crucial element to any car accident case, and it is vital to assess their reliability, consistently, and viability as witnesses before proceeding to trial. Keep these questions in mind and be sure to ask your attorney about what types of questions he or she intends to ask of the witnesses in your case.