Car Accident Witnesses

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Durham Car Accident Witness Attorneys

Providing Guidance Post-Car Accident

Car accidents happen every day and result from a host of different causes. They occur without warning, leaving behind them congested traffic and property damage, as well as physical and emotional injuries. All too often, the mechanisms of car accidents are disputed since only the two drivers involved are available to offer their personal recollections of how the accident happened.

If you’ve been injured in a car accident by the negligence of another driver, you might find yourself in a tough spot if the other driver accuses you of negligent conduct. In such a situation, the accident mechanics become unclear as the conversation devolves into a “he-said, she-said” free-for-all. When this occurs, your right to recovery is called into question, and you will do well to engage every resource available to you. One of these valuable resources is a written statement from an eyewitness.

Call Wallace Pierce Law today at (919) 887-7892, or contact us online for a free consultation. Our Durham attorneys can help you gather the evidence you need after a car accident.

FAQs Regarding Witnesses After an Accident

Why do I need a witness statement?

North Carolina is one of four states that still recognize the doctrine of “contributory negligence.” This means that if you are partially responsible for causing an accident — if you bear even one percent of the fault — your right to recovery is barred completely.

Contributory negligence is the best friend of insurance adjusters in North Carolina, because any argument they can make for holding you partially responsible for the accident – no matter how small or attenuated – allows them to deny your claim completely. These denials are often predicated upon an allegation by the at-fault driver that the victim shared fault by doing something like speeding, following too closely, or becoming distracted while driving. In order to overcome a potential denial based upon an accusation of contributory negligence, you will need to establish that you shared no fault in causing the accident. Having one or more written eyewitness statements can go a long way toward clearing your name and maximizing your chances at recovery.

How do I find witnesses?

It’s important to determine who witnessed the accident as soon as possible after it occurs. This is because these witnesses possess information that could prove crucial in the insurance provider’s disposition of your claim; and most witnesses will only stop for a short time, if at all. Additionally, you should assume that the at-fault driver’s insurance provider will waste no time in reaching out to every witness they can find. For these reasons, it will be in your best interest to speak with any witnesses at the scene of the accident, if you’re able to do so without causing further injury to yourself. Make sure to do whatever you can to immediately identify any witnesses and record their contact information by writing it down or putting it in your cell phone.

Don’t assume that other drivers are the only potential witnesses. Traditionally, some of the best witnesses can be workers or customers at nearby businesses, homeowners living close to the scene of the accident, or road/utility workers near the scene. If it takes walking into businesses or knocking on doors, do it. One good witness can make the difference between recovery and having your claim denied. If you are badly injured, ask someone at the scene to gather information for you. Once the witness leaves the scene, he or she is often gone forever, so act fast.

Keep a pen and notepad in your car, or a few copies of our free Witness Statement Form, in case an accident occurs and you need to collect statements at the scene. Ask each witness to write down their recollection of the accident as soon as they are able. Don’t try to lead the witness or influence him to “color” his recollection in any given way; just ask for a straightforward recounting of what the witness saw and heard. Once the statement is written, signed, and dated, it may be prudent to take a picture of the witness holding the statement toward the camera, just for the sake of “having your bases covered.”

As a corollary, there is no such thing as taking too many pictures at the scene of the accident. Make sure to get pictures of any vehicles involved, in the positions they ended up in immediately after the accident occurred. If there are businesses within eyeshot of the scene, especially grocery stores, department stores, banks, or gas stations, they may have surveillance video of the accident. Make sure to contact any such businesses as soon as possible to put them on notice of your possible need for the surveillance video.

If you aren’t able to speak with the witness(es) at the scene of the accident and you didn’t record their phone number or address, you may be able to find their contact information on the crash report. The crash report, NC Form DMV-349, will be generated by the responding police officer and should be made available to you within a few days after the accident occurs. This is generally a two-page form that identifies the parties involved, describes the mechanics of the accident, lists any contributing factors, and provides a wealth of other information. For witness information, you will want to look at page two of the crash report:

Witness names and contact information, if any, will be found in Box 86, at the bottom of page two:

Witness name and contact information formIf any witness information is available, you should be able to call or write each witness, asking them if they would be willing to provide you with a written statement of what they observed at the time of the accident. For continuity and consistency, we recommend providing each witness with the same template.

What should the witness statement include?

Your witness statements should be concise and straightforward. They should include (i) the full name of the witness, (ii) the date of the accident, (iii) the location of the accident, and (iv) a brief, but thorough, restatement of what the witness observed when the accident occurred. The statement should be signed and dated by the witness. If the witness runs out of room and must write on the back, make sure they sign and date the back of the page.

Locating & Interviewing Witnesses

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.

Managing Witness Relations

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.

Hear What Our Clients Have to Say

  • “When my 4-year old son and I were involved in a terrible head-on collision, I wasn't sure where to turn. Wallace Pierce has been great showing me the way!”

    - Mary P.
  • “Richard Dingus is a great attorney! And I think thee best, serving in the state of North Carolina. I would recommend him for injury and bodily claim any day.”

    - Isaac B.
  • “They were concerned not only about getting our vehicle replaced, but more importantly my kid’s full recovery.”

    - Coral M.