Questions for Car Accident Witnesses
What kind of information should you get from eyewitnesses to the crash?
Witnesses to a car accident can be valuable when it's time to piece together the details of what happened right before, during, and after the crash. Statements from witnesses can also become key evidence later on, in any lawsuit or insurance claim that seeks to establish legal responsibility -- in other words, fault for a car accident. So it's important that the right questions get asked of witnesses, in order to make sure the right information is obtained and recorded. This article touches on some important strategies and points to cover when questioning witnesses to a car accident.
When to Question the Witness
While questions can be asked of witnesses at the scene of the accident, it’s best to just get contact information for all people who witnessed the accident so that the right questions can be asked later on, away from the chaotic scene. This can be done through a simple phone call to a witness, whether from you, your attorney, or an insurance claims adjuster. An in-person meeting can also be arranged, if it's convenient. In any event, the conversation should take place as soon as possible after the accident, while the incident is still fresh in everyone’s mind.
Learn more about Gathering Information at the Car Accident Scene.
Establish the Witness’s Location During the Accident
First things first. Ask questions that establish how the witness came to view the accident itself -- or an important aspect of the accident, even if it’s something that occurred after the fact, such as an injured party receiving medical care.
- When did the witness arrive on the scene?
- Where were they coming from and where were they headed when the accident happened?
- Where was the witness looking before, during, and after the accident?
- How far away was the witness from key events related to the accident as those events took place?
- Did the witness have a clear view of those events at all times?
Get the Facts About the Accident
When questioning a witness to a car accident, the goal is to get all of the witness’s firsthand knowledge and observations out in the open and recorded for later use.
Sometimes an open-ended prompt (“Can you walk me through what you saw?”) is better than specific questions, but you should be ready to ask follow up questions and fill in any gaps in the information you’re getting from the witness. Here are some areas to focus on:
- Set the scene by asking the witness to describe the location of the accident -- identify streets and intersections, lanes, traffic signals, and the different directions in which vehicles were headed. If the interview is face-to-face, ask the witness to draw a diagram or map.
- Ask about the weather and how it affected road conditions (Did the sun cause a glare? Did fog hinder visibility?)
- Get details on the crash itself and the seconds leading up to it. What exactly did the witness see, hear, and feel? How were the vehicles positioned before, during, and after?
- Try to get accurate estimates as to distances to and from vehicles and intersections, vehicle speeds, and passage of time.
Avoid “He Said, She Said”
Questions that are asked of accident witnesses should be tailored so that the witness’s responses include only firsthand observations and personal impressions of what happened -- not speculation as to what other drivers, passengers, and witnesses might have said.
One reason for this is you’ll avoid running into problems later on if your witness’s statements are introduced in court. All state and federal courts have strict rules on admissibility of evidence, and often when one witness testifies about what someone else said, those overheard statements will be considered inadmissible “hearsay” that can’t be used as evidence in the case.