Eyewitnesses and expert witnesses
Witnesses in a personal injury/accident can be one of the most important roles involved in presenting a case to the insurance company. We will also talk about the difference between an eyewitness and an expert witness.
In talking with a former insurance company adjuster, the first question the adjuster has is, “Is there coverage for this accident?”. This question is usually fairly easy to determine. The second question is “Is there liability?”. Often, this question involves investigation.
Many times, there is a question of liability in an accident. It may be one driver’s word against the others. Having an unbiased eyewitness can be critical as they can make your case regarding who was at fault or destroy the case. Often, stories change between the time of the accident and the time the accident is reported to the police department or the insurance company.
The testimony of an eyewitness can help fill in the blanks for the insurance adjuster as to exactly what occurred. Unless there is a traffic light camera in operation, it is often easy for differing stories regarding who had the green traffic light or green arrow.
Without an eyewitness, it is almost impossible for the insurance company to determine who was at fault. The insurance adjuster will usually make their decision regarding liability based on the unbiased witness account, along with the physical evidence.
So, it’s very important to get witnesses to the accident to stay and talk with the police, or at least get their name and contact information, if they are not willing to stay for the police to come. Of course, if you are too injured to gather this information, that is understandable.
If you do witness an accident, you must stay to talk with the police, if possible. If you cannot stay, give your name and contact information to one or both drivers.
Sometimes, people don’t want to get involved for fear of having to go to court. However, in most cases, if they talk with the insurance company and give their account, going to court will not be necessary.
What if I witness an automobile accident?
If you witness an automobile accident, you should stop to help. First, you should pull over to a safe place and call the police to report the accident. Put your own safety first; stop and exit the vehicle when it is safe to do so. Then, you should see if anyone needs an aide.
Give aid as much as you safely and reasonably can. Do not attempt to move anyone unless they are in imminent danger. You may not be equipped to offer medical aid, but you can help to keep the situation calm until medical professionals arrive.
The average person isn’t a trained medical provider, meaning it’s understandable that they may not know the correct thing to do in certain medical emergencies. So what if your good faith intentions actually caused more injuries? Can you be held liable?
Will I have to go to court?
In most cases, it will not be necessary to go to court to testify about what you witnessed. It is more likely that, if there is a question of liability, you will need to give a statement to the insurance company to help them make their liability decision.
In most cases, the liability decision will be made, and the case settled without having to go to court. If the case does not settle outside of court, unless you receive a subpoena, you will decide whether to appear as an eyewitness in the case.
What is a reliable eyewitness?
A passenger, friend, or relative of the driver is usually not considered a reliable witness.
A reliable witness cannot profit from giving their version of events.
A reliable eyewitness must have seen what happened in the accident, so location and viewpoint are important.
How can two separate eyewitnesses have differing versions of the events?
Sometimes the events of an accident happen so fast that it is difficult to see everything that occurred. When this happens, our mind tries to make sense of it all and may “remember” events incorrectly.
An eyewitness to speeding is often suspect because it is difficult to determine the speed of another vehicle unless the witness is actually driving alongside the other car. The eyewitness must be considered honest.
The eyewitness should have seen the accident from the beginning until the end to be considered credible because there could have been intervening situations, such as a third vehicle involved that caused the initial accident but left the scene.
Age, intelligence and memory are all factors in determining a witness’s credibility. The witness should also have good vision and hearing, and a good memory.
A witness who appears to be biased should be ruled out. It is important that you give the insurance company the information of a credible witness. If you give them the information of a biased witness, this could hurt your credibility.
It’s common to think only of the physical injuries that can occur with car accidents, but injuries aren’t always physical. What is often overlooked following serious motor vehicle accidents is an increased risk for psychological trauma such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
An expert witness is someone who testifies using their professional opinions, such as a doctor testifying about a particular injury, treatment, or surgery.
According to Wikipedia, “an expert witness is a person whose opinion by virtue of education, training, certification, skills or experience, is accepted by the judge as an expert. The judge may consider the witness’s specialized (scientific, technical, or other) opinion about evidence or facts before the court within the expert’s area of expertise, to be referred to as an ‘expert opinion.’ Expert witnesses may also deliver ‘expert evidence’ within the area of their expertise. Their testimony may be rebutted by testimony from other experts or by other evidence or facts.”
An expert witness is commonly used in court cases and must be accepted by the judge as an expert witness. The expert witness must be relevant to the subject and impartial. Expert witnesses are skilled at explaining complicated scientific issues, but should not expressly try to influence the jury or judge.
In the case of an injury related to an accident, many times a physician is used to explain complicated medical information that is not commonly known by the average individual. A medical expert is usually a doctor, but also could be a specialist in the medical field such as a nurse, medical technician, or a physician’s assistant.
The medical expert may testify about a person’s injury and the complications involved with the injury. The medical expert may testify that a person has developed an injury due to an accident, or that a pre-existing injury has been exacerbated by an accident.
The physician may testify about a permanency rating, or how the injury can affect a person’s life over the years. The physician can testify about the need for surgery, or about the surgery itself.
The need is for the judge or jury to really understand the injury or condition, and to value the case effectively.
Medical expert witnesses are also used in medical malpractice suits. Another case for using a medical expert would be if a person had an unexpected health emergency that caused the accident, such as a heart attack that caused them to cross the center line and hit the other party. If the health crisis was unexpected, this could lead to a question of liability.
An expert witness such as an accident reconstructionist may be needed to help the judge or jury make a liability decision. An accident reconstructionist can testify as to speed or mechanical defects.
According to Wikipedia, “traffic collision reconstruction is the process of investigating, analyzing, and drawing conclusions about the causes and events during a vehicle collision. Reconstructionists conduct collision analysis and reconstruction to identify the cause of a collision and contributing factors including the role of the driver, vehicle, roadway, lighting, and general environment. Physics and engineering principles are the basis of these analyses and may involve the use of software for calculations and simulations.”
A forensic expert would be used in the case of a fatality if there is a question that the accident caused the fatality.
A financial expert witness specializes in the financial aspect of a case. A financial expert would be used in an accident case to testify if a person can no longer work in their specific career to project future loss of earnings. They are also used in the case of a fatality to project the loss of earnings. This will impact the value of the case.
A mental health expert witness is similar to a medical expert witness, but they usually are only used to establish the mental issues caused by an accident. They can testify that the accident caused or exacerbated a mental health issue, such as PTSD.
A vocational expert witness would testify if the individual is unable to work anymore because of the accident, which will also impact the value of the case.
In conclusion, if you witness an accident, please stop and give your contact information to the parties involved, or stay to talk with the police, if at all possible.