Last updated on March 10, 2019 by Accident Monitoring Team
Being in a car accident can be a highly traumatic event. Even a minor collision can leave you distracted, confused, and stressed, but you need to keep your wits about you in the wake of an accident. That’s because what you do and say right after a crash can have major repercussions — and preserving evidence in an auto accident is one of the most important things you need to do.
First things first, of course: the key initial step in the wake of any and every accident is to ensure everyone receives proper medical attention. Whether you, the other driver, or other passengers the ones that are injured, make sure all parties are stable. However, once that requirement is satisfied, it’s time to begin preserving evidence in an auto accident. Here’s what you need to know about this process.
Why Preserving Evidence in an Auto Accident is Important
There’s a very good reason why evidence preservation and documentation is so crucial in the wake of an accident. It’s one of the primary determining factors for whether you can achieve compensation for any injuries you’ve suffered and any damage your property has sustained. Not only that, but it can have a supreme influence on how much compensation you can receive as well.
Attorneys with experience in resolving car accident claims will tell you that there’s never a bad time to begin preserving and documenting evidence related to a car crash. However, the earlier you begin the process, the better. In fact, it should be the first thing you do after everyone who might have been injured in the event has received medical attention.
Police Reports As Evidence
Unless you’ve been involved in a very minor accident, the police are usually within the first to arrive at the scene of a traffic collision. Once they do, it’s their job to document the incident and file a report. This will require the officer on the scene to collect specific information from you and anyone else involved in the accident. This information goes into the police report and is then filed as an official document.
Thanks to its official document status, a police report is often used as evidence when it comes to car accident claims. Whether you’re filing with an insurance provider or you’re making a compensation claim in court, the contents of a police report can speed up this process. Your lawyer will be especially interested in your police report in the event that you do need to go to court to resolve a claim.
Preserving Eyewitness Accounts
In many cases, your police report will include eyewitness accounts of the incidents of other drivers or onlookers that saw how the accident unfolded but weren’t directly involved. Yet it’s always a good idea to preserve eyewitness accounts yourself whenever possible. You’ll need the name and contact information of each witness as well as a written statement describing the accident as they saw it for your own record.
Eyewitness testimony can play a major role in supporting your car accident claim. However, there are a number of ways that eyewitness accounts might not help your case at all. In fact, the accounts of your eyewitness are likely to be discredited in the following circumstances:
- If they had an obstructed view of the accident: witnesses that could only observe a portion of the accident because of their vantage point are less useful than those that had a clear view of the entire incident.
- If they didn’t witness the accident from beginning to end: Losing sight of the accident halfway through, or only watching a portion of the incident as it unfolded, leaves gaps in a witness’ testimony.
- If they might have been distracted: if they were walking a dog, pushing a baby carriage, talking on their phone, or anything else, the fact that the witness’ attention was split means their recollection of events may be flawed.
- If their memory, hearing, or vision is impaired: any witnesses with medically relevant vision, hearing, or memory issues may have difficulties presenting an objective recounting of the events they saw.
- If they were under the influence: intoxicated witnesses, or those with impaired judgment from prescription or illicit drugs, are unlikely to have their testimony given much weight because their perceptions were chemically altered.
- If they have a conflict of interest: a witness with a grudge against one of the people involved in the accident, or who would benefit from compensation awarded to someone involved, can’t be relied upon to give unbiased testimony.
- If they’re otherwise considered not trustworthy: anyone with a history of deception, up to and including being a convicted criminal, is also unlikely to have their testimony considered as factual.
Other Ways to Preserve Evidence
There are ways of preserving evidence in an auto accident that don’t rely on witness testimony. One of the primary methods for accomplishing this is through establishing a photographic record of the aftermath of the accident. Whether it’s recording evidence of damage to your vehicle or other property, injuries suffered by you or anyone else involved, or even just road conditions and the layout of the accident site, photographs can go a long way when it comes to evidence preservation.
When taking pictures of a car accident, you should always begin with recording images of any obvious visible injuries you might have sustained, if this is possible. You should also take pictures of the environment, especially if you feel they might have played a role in the accident. This can range from potholes and other road conditions, missing or non-functional road signs or traffic lights, fallen tree limbs, or snowy, icy, or wet roads. Also, make sure to record all visible damage to your vehicle, any other vehicles, and any other property like nearby fences or mailboxes.
As a final note, don’t be afraid to take multiple pictures of the same thing from different angles. You can never take too many photographs when it comes to documenting evidence. Additionally, while you’ll have these pictures on your phone’s camera, either back them up remotely, print them out, or both, just to ensure you have backups in the event you need them.
Keep Detailed Personal Records
Other ways to preserve evidence in the wake of an accident is to keep your own detailed personal records. Unlike police reports, witness statements, or other evidence like medical reports (more on that one later), personal records don’t have to be in any specific format. Instead, they simply need to be detailed enough to help support your memory of the accident down to the specific and relevant details that may help you prevail in any compensation claim you want to bring.
In many cases, the photos you took of the accident are an excellent way to start recording your own personal memories of the event. Be sure to write down everything you remember about the accident upon viewing each picture, even if you think it might be irrelevant. Doing this after the fact is also beneficial because you’re likely to be calmer and more collected once you’ve returned home safe. The chaos and stress directly after an accident is obviously no place for people trying to think clearly.
Collecting Your Medical Records
Taking pictures of any obvious injuries at the scene of the accident is a good start to preserving evidence in an auto accident. However, they’re even better when accompanied by an official record of your injuries after being examined by a medical professional. This is because doctors are considered experts when it comes to identifying injuries, understanding how serious they are, and what it will take for you to recover from them.
Additionally, there are some injuries that you can suffer in an accident that don’t have any outward signs but can be quite serious. Having a doctor confirm a diagnosis of a concussion or a soft-tissue injury like whiplash, both common car accident injuries, will help support any compensation claims you may make.
Other Evidence Types
There are some other types of evidence that you may need to collect as well, depending on where your accident occurred. In Texas, for example, you’ll need to contact the Department of Transportation if you get into a car accident that doesn’t generate a police report but still resulted in either $1,000 in property damage, injury to drivers or occupants, or both.
In this example, you’ll have 10 days from the date of the accident to file your report with the Texas DOT. Your crash report will need to have much of the same information as a police report, as it should include personal and insurance details for you and any other drivers as well as a summary of the incident and the road conditions at the time.
A Final Recap On Evidence Preservation
Preserving evidence in an auto accident might feel tedious, but it’s necessary to protect your rights. Be sure you always do the following in the wake of any car accident:
- Get a copy of your police report
- Preserve any eyewitness accounts
- Take photographic evidence of everything
- Create a detailed personal record of your experiences
- Collect any and all medical records
- File any necessary accident reports with your state’s Department of Transportation
Finally, and this goes without saying: you don’t have to handle the aftermath of an accident alone. Ensure you enlist the aid of a qualified car accident attorney if you need help with this evidence preservation process.