Do the Eyes Have It?
When you’ve been in an accident, one of the most commonly given pieces of advice you’ll hear is that you should collect eyewitness evidence from people at the scene of the accident. Heck, I’ve made this recommendation myself. I believe it’s good advice.
But, while it’s true that eyewitness testimony is some of the most compelling evidence in any accident claim, it isn’t necessarily the most reliable. That’s why a qualified New Jersey motorcycle accident attorney will always make sure that eyewitness testimony is only one piece of a variety of types of evidence assembled (along with police reports, accident reconstructions, etc) when working on a motorcycle accident investigation for a client.
Issues with Eyewitness Evidence
Witness statements are often helpful in resolving claims, but by themselves are considered hearsay. This is partially because, as this article in Scientific American points out,
The act of remembering, says eminent memory researcher and psychologist Elizabeth F. Loftus of the University of California, Irvine, is “more akin to putting puzzle pieces together than retrieving a video recording.”
Pieces can get lost, or put in the wrong place, recollections can be swayed by the phrasing of the question. False memories have even been created by researchers.
The impact of these facts on the validity of eyewitness testimony in your motorcycle accident is obviously profound. In an event as chaotic and traumatic as a traffic accident, memory may not be the most reliable source of evidence for proving that you were not at fault and for obtaining the most favorable outcome possible.
Having said that, if an eyewitness account can be backed up by other pieces of evidence (including other corroborating witness testimony), it can still be very powerful in supporting your claim.
Potential Witnesses – Who They Are and How to Speak with Them
Here are a few guidelines that should help you effectively use eyewitness evidence to support your case.
Know who your potential witnesses are – At the scene of the accident, potential witnesses who may be able to provide accurate and reliable eyewitness testimony include drivers and occupants of other vehicles involved; anyone who stopped to render aid or to help; owners, customers or employees of businesses adjacent to the accident scene; road workers or utility employees; passersby.
How to record their testimony – Once you’ve established that you are uninjured, or at least mobile, and have received any necessary aid, grab your camera or cell phone, a pen and something to write on. Ask potential witnesses to write down what they saw in as much detail as possible, or to narrate the event as they saw it to you.
Be polite and make sure they know they do not have to follow any specific format, or have the statement notarized. If they are willing, have them sign and date the bottom of the page and hold it up for you to photograph. If they are willing, you should get their contact information as well, including their name, phone number, address and email.
If they do not have time to make a statement at the scene ask for their contact information and give this information to the police and/or your attorney.
How to speak with potential witnesses – As a long-time New Jersey Motorcycle Accident Lawyer, I know from years of experience that many of your witnesses will not be very excited about putting anything in writing and signing it. Let alone giving out their contact information.
However, there are good samaritans out there who will be willing to help. Speak with them politely. No matter how excited or stressed you are, speak as calmly as possible. Don’t try to argue your side of the story at this point, and do not ask leading questions. Witnesses do not want to feel manipulated. Simply ask them what they saw or heard.
After the Accident – Remember there may be homes or businesses within sight of the accident, and even if they were not at the scene, homeowners, customers, or employees may have seen what happened through a window. This is important because speaking with more people increases your chances of finding the one who can confirm that you were not at fault.
Witnesses Who May Not Help Your Claim
Not all eyewitness evidence is created equal. Relatives of anyone involved in the accident will not be seen as credible by insurance adjustors or juries. Anyone you knew before the accident is not a credible witness, nor is anyone with a financial stake in the outcome of the claim. So any testimony collected from these folks will be of limited or no use to your case.
Finally – and I cannot reinforce this often enough – the most important task for you to attend to in the aftermath of an accident is to see to your own health and safety. Without that, all the eyewitnesses in the world will not be of any help to you.
If you’ve been involved in an accident and believe there were witnesses, my firm can be of assistance. Contact motorcycle personal injury lawyer Lee Gaber, Esquire now at 1-888-292-5352. There’s no fee unless you win.