In any serious car accident, your first steps should be to call the police and check yourself for serious injury. Only after you’ve determined you are okay, should you start looking for a witness. Unless the fault of your car accident is clear, witnesses can be valuable in determining liability, piecing together details of an accident, or providing evidence later on in your claim.
If you get the chance to speak to a witness, gather their names and contact information so your personal injury attorney can get in touch with them again. The first responders will likely ask witnesses several questions at the scene, but it may be in your best interest to call after the fact to gather information. Here are four of the most important questions to ask a car accident witness.
1) Can you explain – in your own words – what happened?
It’s always a good idea to start with a question that allows the witness to provide as much detail about the accident as possible. Leading questions or those that could put the witness on the defensive should be avoided. Ask the witness what they saw or heard during the accident, what vehicles were involved, which direction they traveled, and any signs or indication that the drivers attempted to avoid the crash.
2) Where were you located in relation to the accident?
Establishing where each witness was just before the crash can help you piece together the events and reconstruct the accident scene as a whole. Ask about whether they were closer to one driver or the other, whether they saw any traffic signals, and what they were doing during the accident.
3) Is there anything else I should know about the accident?
Asking another open ended question will serve as a platform for your witness to provide any other pertinent details to your case they may not have remembered during their initial description. Look for details like what the other person said after the crash, how they acted, any signs of intoxication or signs of injury.
4) Can I have your contact information if I need to get in touch again?
Possibly the most important question you can ask a witness is for their contact information. Additional follow up in the future is very likely to happen, whether it be a phone call or the witness sitting in during a deposition. Your lawyer, or insurance company representative, may want confirmation from the witness as well, which makes it integral to get accurate contact info from any witnesses.
Can a witness hurt my case?
There are 2 ways a witness can hurt your claim: 1) if a witness does not side with your version of the story, and 2) if a witness provides false or bad information. In both of these cases yoru car accident attorney will likely question the witnesses and decide whether to use them in regards to your claim. If your insurance adjuster looks to speak with a witness, a witness can refuse. It’s best not to give any advice to the witness, so they stay as credible as possible during this portion of your case.
If your witness seems unsure at the scene, gather their information and have them write down their initial statement and sign it. This way the insurance company will see that your witnesses and statements are credible and real people. Again, the best thing to do after being involved in a serious accident is contacting a lawyer to help get you through the proceeding legal process.