If you've been involved in a car accident, it's important to gather as much evidence as you can in the days and weeks following the crash to protect your rights and get compensation for your injuries and losses (called "damages"). The more evidence you have about how the crash happened and how it impacted you, the more likely you are to get a fair car accident settlement.
Let's take a look at why evidence is crucial in car accident cases, and the different types of evidence you should gather.
To file a successful car insurance claim or win a car accident lawsuit, you'll typically need to prove who caused the accident (fault) and how much the accident cost you (damages). To prove fault and damages, you'll need evidence.
Evidence can come in many forms. Your own statement about how the accident happened, for example, is important evidence. But you'll typically need other evidence to back up your claim, especially when others involved in the accident have a conflicting story about what happened. Helpful evidence often includes:
The evidence that's available to you will depend on many factors, including the seriousness of the injuries involved and the time and location of the accident.
Safety should always be your number one priority after a car accident. Call 911 if you or anyone else involved or impacted by the crash needs medical help.
Even if the accident involves only property damage or minor injuries, call the police. Some evidence can only be gathered at the scene of the crash and the police are best equipped to do it.
If an officer responds to the scene of your accident, the officer will likely write a police report. Police reports typically include:
If you can, take your own date-stamped photographs of the scene. No one is as invested as you are in your case. You'll know all of the important angles to thoroughly document the scene. You'll want to capture:
Don't just take still photographs, take videos too if you can. Here are some tips for taking car accident scene photos.
You are required to exchange information with other drivers involved in the accident, including names, addresses, driver's license numbers, license plate numbers, and insurance information. If anyone was driving for an employer at the time of the accident, get the employer's name and contact information too.
Look for uninvolved witnesses—anyone who may have seen or heard the crash, including pedestrians, cyclists, and people in nearby homes and businesses. You'll want to get the witnesses' names and contact information. Insurance adjusters often place a high value on the statements of uninvolved witnesses who have no stake in the outcome of the case.
Learn more about how witnesses can help your personal injury claim.
A clear video of the car accident and its aftermath can answer a lot of the questions an adjuster, judge, or jury may have about how the accident happened. Potential sources of video footage include:
Video evidence is powerful, but it can be difficult to locate and collect. You typically have to act quickly. A car accident attorney can help you request, collect, and preserve video evidence before it's deleted.
Accident and crash reconstruction experts can use the evidence described above to make lots of useful findings. For example, using information about road surfaces, road conditions, weather, the vehicles involved, and post-impact travel distances, experts can estimate vehicle speeds at the point of impact.
Experts can also explain angles of impact, post-impact distances and directions of travel, and other vehicle mechanics (like a spin or a rollover). The evidence can be used to describe what happened to drivers and passengers inside the vehicles during and after impact, and to explain how different injuries occurred.
It might be possible, using things like video footage and eyewitness reports, to make findings about who was at fault. Perhaps one driver tried to beat a yellow traffic light. Or maybe a driver was speeding through a parking lot and hit someone pulling out of a parking spot.
An absence of skid marks left by a fast-moving vehicle approaching a stop sign could indicate that the driver never saw the sign. Perspective photos, on the other hand, might show that the driver's view of the sign was obstructed by overgrown trees or other vegetation, suggesting that faulty road maintenance could be partly to blame. Or weather conditions like snow, ice, or other moisture might explain the lack of skid marks.
At a minimum, the evidence will give insurance adjusters and attorneys a more complete picture of what happened, so they can make informed decisions about who or what caused the accident.
So far, we've been talking about how to gather evidence to prove that someone else was at fault for the car accident. Once you've proved fault, you'll also have to prove damages—the value of your accident-related injuries and losses.
Damages typically fall into two categories: special and general. Special (also called "economic") damages include things you can typically value in dollars, like the cost to repair or replace a vehicle, medical bills, and lost income. General (also called "noneconomic") damages are harder to put a dollar amount, like pain and suffering and lowered quality of life.
Let's take a closer look at these categories of damages.
Here's a list of documents you'll want to gather to help prove your special damages:
This list isn't exhaustive. Each car accident case is unique. You'll want to gather evidence specific to your injuries, property damage, and lost income and opportunities.
General damages are harder to value than special damages because they are more subjective. How do you put a dollar amount on your pain? Most lawyers and adjusters use a formula to estimate general damages. The formula involves multiplying your medical expenses by a number (called "the multiplier") to arrive at an approximate value of your general damages. The multiplier typically ranges from 1 to 5 depending on the severity of the injury, the type of treatment you received, and whether you share fault for the accident.
You should consider keeping a car accident diary to track all of the ways the accident has impacted you. You may think you'll remember everything, but memories inevitably fade over time. Your case will be stronger if you write down exactly how the accident disrupted your life in big and small ways, from headaches to lost productivity at work to anxiety attacks.
If you've filed a personal injury lawsuit, you can get information through interrogatories—written questions that the other party must answer, under oath, within a specified period of time. You can use interrogatories to gather evidence for your case, including information about whether the other driver was using a cell phone at the time of the accident.
You can also gather evidence through depositions, which are out-of-court testimony, given under oath, and generally recorded and transcribed by a court reporter. Depositions can lead to important evidence, and may also be introduced as evidence at trial to challenge the credibility of a witness whose testimony has changed over time.
If you've been injured in a car accident, a lawyer can help you gather the right evidence to get the best possible outcome in your case.
Learn more about when to hire a lawyer after a car accident and get tips on how to find the right personal injury lawyer. When you're ready, you can connect with a lawyer directly from this page for free.