After a car accident, in order to build your best case for a car insurance claim or injury lawsuit, it's extremely important to gather as much evidence as possible about the crash: how it happened, and how it affected you. The more documentation you have to support your claim for injuries and other losses ("damages"), the more likely you are to obtain a fair car accident settlement. Let's look at why evidence is crucial in a car accident case, and the types of evidence you should gather.
Car insurance companies know that in the rare event that an insurance claim becomes a civil lawsuit that makes it all the way to trial, the burden of proof in obtaining recovery (compensation) lies with the person seeking damages. That means that the injured party—called the "plaintiff" once the case goes to court—bears the burden of establishing that the other driver was at fault for the car accident and that the plaintiff suffered injury and damages. This burden of proof colors the insurance claim process too.
That means the injured person must gather evidence that substantiates:
Evidence can come in many forms, and may include documents such as medical bills and records, photographs, and witness statements or testimony.
Even a seemingly minor car accident can be a disorienting experience. After an accident, check on the well-being of your passengers, as well as any other drivers, and call for paramedics if there are any obvious injuries.
Regardless of the severity of the accident or injuries, call the police and wait for a report to be made. Having a police report created at the time of the accident is extremely important in ascertaining which driver is legally at fault.
Take the time to gather all pertinent evidence at the scene of the accident. You should obtain the name, address, driver's license number, vehicle plate numbers, and insurance information from all other drivers involved. Find out whether any of the drivers were driving for their employer at the time of the accident, and if so, obtain the employer’s name and contact information.
In addition, gather the names and contact information of any witnesses to the accident. Use your phone to take photographs of the accident scene.
Pay close attention to the condition of the vehicles involved, the location of traffic signals, and any skid marks, vehicle debris, or other evidence. You may also want to take notes of any statements made by the other drivers or witnesses.
In most car accident cases, a significant portion of recovery is related to compensation for vehicle damage. Gather all records related to car repairs and car rentals. This includes documentation of any recent repairs or improvements made to your car shortly before the accident. For instance, if your car was totaled in the accident, you can increase the value assigned to your vehicle if you have proof that you recently replaced all four tires, or expensive components of the engine. Accordingly, if applicable, you should gather this type of information and accompanying receipts. Learn more about repair options after a car accident.
Perhaps the most important component of evidence-gathering in car accident cases relates to documenting the nature and extent of your injuries. After a car accident it's extremely important to obtain timely medical treatment for any injuries and to inform all treating health care providers that you were involved in a car accident.
Keep a journal with information relating to healthcare appointments, including who you saw, the treatment obtained, and whether you were required to pay any money at that particular visit. Once you have completed all treatment, ask for a complete copy of all of your medical records, including diagnostic images like x-rays or MRIs. In addition, gather all medical bills from each provider, and make sure you track down all necessary pay stubs, W-2s, and other evidence to support any lost wages/lost income claim.
If you've filed a personal injury lawsuit, you can obtain information from the at-fault driver through the use of car accident 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, such as learning of the defendant’s conduct prior to the accident.
You can also gather evidence through a deposition, which is out-of-court testimony, given under oath, and generally recorded and transcribed by a court reporter. Depositions can lead to important evidence, but may also be introduced as evidence at trial to challenge the credibility of a witness whose testimony has changed over time.
If you're injured in a car accident, gathering the right evidence is just one way an attorney can help with your case. Get tips on finding the right personal injury lawyer and learn when to hire a lawyer after a car accident.