Scholle Law firm has been proudly serving Duluth, Georgia and Gwinnett County for over 20+ years. Our Gwinnett injury lawyers are experienced in handling cases in Duluth, Lawrenceville and elsewhere in Gwinnett and many other metro Atlanta area counties. Today the firm adds to its Georgia Personal Injury & Accident Guide Knowledge Center with a content piece about accident witnesses. As always, if you have a question relating to a Georgia personal injury matter, contact our Gwinnett County injury lawyers for a free case evaluation.
Importance of Accident Witnesses
An accident witness is a person that saw an accident as it was taking place. As the victim of an accident, you are a witness to what you saw and heard. Other drivers or pedestrians involved in the accident are also witnesses to what they saw and heard. Sometimes, insurance adjusters will argue that the persons involved in an accident are not witnesses. This is not exactly true. Every person involved in an accident is a witness concerning their version of what happened. The insurance adjuster fails to explain the difference between those directly involved in an accident and witnesses that were not. Those witnesses not directly involved in the accident are called independent witnesses.
Significance of Independent Witnesses
What is an Independent witness? An independent witness is a third party that was not involved in the accident, saw what happened, and has no personal interest in those involved. While the statements of those involved in an accident are important, you always want to use the statements of an independent witnesses as supporting evidence for your case. If an independent witness is favorable to your side of the story, you are in a good position. Statements from independent witnesses are more convincing than those directly involved since they neither benefit nor suffer by providing their testimony. They are merely repeating what they saw.
What difference does an independent witness make? In many auto-accidents, liability can be easy to prove. For instance in a rear-end accident. But, this is not always the case. For example, if a driver at a four-way stop proceeds out of turn and does not yield to oncoming vehicles, that driver is at fault for not following the rules of the road. But what if the alleged at-fault driver has a different version of what happened. What if the other driver says it was the other way around and insists it was you that proceeded through the intersection without looking? Without the benefit of an independent witness to verify the accident facts, this is an unfortunate case of one word versus another. In such cases, the other driver’s insurance company may side with their insured and deny your claim.
Finding Independent Witnesses
At the Scene
Look for independent witnesses after the accident happens. The accident scene itself is going to be a prime opportunity to find independent witnesses. Admittedly, there is much going on at the scene of an accident. You may be injured and unable to do this. The accident-scene itself may not be safe. Even in cases where injuries are not life-threatening, the sheer shock and surprise of the accident itself can understandably become an impediment to calm rational thought. As soon as you can, talk to the people present at the accident scene. Ask if anyone saw the accident take place. If you find and an independent witness who says the other driver was at-fault, ask the witness to provide their statement to the responding police officer on scene. If the police have not arrived yet, request that they please stay until police arrive.
Returning to the Scene
Look for independent witnesses by returning to the accident scene. If you found no independent witness the day of the accident, return to the accident scene later and search for possible witnesses. You want to do this sooner than later. It will not be favorable to your investigative efforts to return to the scene one or two weeks later. The longer you wait, the harder it will be to find your witness. Also, keep in mind that witnesses remember things better the sooner you talk to them.
In your search, keep in mind that accident scenes near restaurant entrances or large retail display windows provide good possibilities for locating independent witnesses. When you talk to employees of a nearby business, be sure to mention the date and time of the accident. Because those working in the restaurant and retail world often work part-time, providing the date and time of the accident could produce names of employees working that day. If a potential witness is not available, come back on the correct day so you can speak to the right person. In doing so, you may have found your independent witness.
Look to the Accident Report
Look for independent witnesses on the accident report. If you had no luck finding an independent witness at the scene, check the accident report. Most times, the responding officer will advise the victim when there is a witness. But this is not always true. What if you were taken away by ambulance and are not fully aware of all information the responding police officer obtained. In that case, there may be more on the accident report than you initially suspected. Make sure you get a copy of the accident report and review it thoroughly.
If you find a witness listed, make sure the responding officer documented the witness’s statement in his narrative. If the witness’s statement is in the accident report narrative and favorable to you, there should be nothing else to do except point it out to the adjuster. On the other hand, if the responding officer either includes no statement from the independent witness or the statement is ambiguous, you should speak to our Gwinnett injury lawyers about investigating your accident and contacting the witness directly so their version of the accident can be ascertained.
Open Records Request
If efforts to find an independent witness have reached a dead-end, the law enforcement agency website that responded to the accident is a good place to go to next. Locating the department that manages records for that agency provides an opportunity to make a formal request for additional information. Our Gwinnett injury lawyers do this all the time. That department will have a process for making an open records request. In doing so, copies of 911 audible recordings and video footage from the responding police officers can be located.
In some jurisdictions, persons directly involved in the accident pay nothing for this service. Most times, the information ordered will come by email within thirty (30) days. When listening to the 911 calls, our Gwinnett injury lawyers determine if the records are helpful. For example, if the caller says they saw the accident happen. If so, this would be a positive I.D. for an independent witness. When watching the police cam videos, our Gwinnett injury lawyers look closely for any witness information not accounted for in the accident report. It is surprising how much usable information is found by carefully reviewing documents from an open records request.
What Information to Collect?
The Witnesses’ Contact Information:
Typically, the witness’s name and phone number are sufficient. It is generally a best practice to ask them to write their info down to prevent misspelling. This info must be able to be read. Legible handwriting varies from person to person… If they provide this on a business card, this can serve as a backup phone number if they cannot be reached on a personal line. Additionally, business cards generally have email addresses.
The Witnesses’ Verbal Version of What Happened:
It is imperative to know what this witness is going to say. Remember, both sides can have witnesses. You or your Gwinnett injury lawyers must know if this witness is favorable to your side of the story. Also witnesses may need to be vetted. Sometimes one person claiming to be a witness either did not see the accident occur or saw only part of it. Keep an open mind when considering their testimony. Even if they are not entirely in synch with every part of your story, keep listening to what they have to say. It’s possible they are favorable to your case but just have a different perspective.
The Witness’s Written Version of What Happened:
Upon finding that the independent witness is favorable to a client’s side of the story, our Gwinnett injury lawyers often them to provide a written sworn statement or affidavit that can be provided to an opposing insurance adjuster. Most people do not mind doing this. In cases where the witness finds out that the insurance adjuster has unfairly found fault against the wrong party, witnesses can often feel that this is their opportunity to help stand up for what is right. Once the witness is willing to provide a written statement, it is a best practice to have them sign it in front of a notary so their signature can be authenticated.
Scholle Law is Here to Help
Are you tired of fighting the insurance company on your own? Is the insurance company refusing to consider the evidence that you present to them? Scholle Law would like to help you. A call to our office results in a free case evaluation with an experienced Gwinnett County injury lawyer. Your injury claim will be evaluated by one of our experienced Gwinnett injury lawyers. We will take as long as necessary to make sure that you feel your concerns are addressed and your questions answered.
Scholle Law’s Gwinnett injury lawyers speak to prospective clients every day about cases related to car accidents, motorcycle accidents, tractor trailer accidents, work accidents and injuries related to premises liability cases. If you or someone that you know has a question or a concern about an accident caused by someone else, contact us today for a free case evaluation. We will not charge you to speak to you about your case. In summary, it does not cost a thing to see how we can help you.
To coordinate a meeting, call us @ (678) 921-3320 or contact us online.