After an accident, it is essential that you locate and interview all witnesses to the accident. Do not think of a witness as simply a person who saw the collision. Witnesses, by definition, are people who saw any part of the event, whether it was before the collision, the collision itself or any events after the collision. These three categories of witnesses are often called (1) pre-accident witnesses, (2) event witnesses and (3) post-accident witnesses.
These witnesses could be a variety of people, both official and unofficial. For example, the most common post-accident witnesses are the investigating police officers who come to the scene of the accident, but this category may also include the emergency response personnel or other drivers. Pre-accident witnesses are most often other drivers or pedestrians. It is important to remember that every witness will have relevant information about the accident. Whether the information is helpful or hurtful, it is still relevant and important to know. If you can discover the information, you can be sure that the insurance adjuster will be able to as well.
It is critical to locate witnesses to the accident in order to obtain all known information regarding your claim. A well-conducted witness interview can help you shape your claim and form what information the witness believes is important to the claim. Simply meeting the witness to discuss the facts is never enough. An interview should be conducted of each witness and each one should provide a written statement, a sworn affidavit, an audio recording or a video recording to ensure that statements do not change over time.
Collecting witness statements will help guarantee that if a witness no longer remembers or misremembers information, you will be able to assist them in recalling the information correctly. Gathering and preserving witness statements will assist the insurance company in understanding the facts from all perspectives and not just from the perspective of their insured, which can often be skewed. Further, preserving witness statements may serve to invalidate any statements that have changed over time regarding the facts of the accident.
It is important to understand that not all witnesses are helpful to your case. In fact, assuming that a witness will remember or believe that the accident occurred in the manner that you do may be a mistake. Moreover, many witnesses to accidents refuse to get involved in the process, as they believe that they will be forced to come to court and testify. It is helpful to remind them that providing a recorded statement or affidavit could assist in ensuring that they won’t be forced to appear by subpoena in court.
The most effective strategy for procuring witness statements is simple. First, remember the old adage that you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar. Therefore, be polite and sincere with witnesses, as their testimony can help or hurt your claim for compensation. Secondly, explain what you are trying to do, so that the witness understands that you are attempting to amicably resolve the case with the opposing party. Third, explain that you simply need a statement that memorializes what they know to be true – nothing more and nothing less.
If you are unable to reach the witness, consider writing a letter or trying them via the telephone number on the police report, if available. However, no witness is required to voluntarily speak with you. It is fairly common for witnesses to refuse to provide a statement, but it is always worth trying to contact them more than once.
Finally, the most difficult part of speaking to witnesses is letting them know that the at-fault driver did not act intentionally. It is essential to convey that the accident was the at-fault party’s mistake and that you are seeking fair compensation from the insurance company for that mistake. If you tell the witness that you are seeking punitive damages or express a desire to sue the driver who hit you, he or she may not wish to become involved or give a statement.
Telling the witness that you are seeking punitive damages or expressing a desire to take the driver for every penny they have usually results in the witness no longer wishing to be involved or give a statement.