Using Scene Evidence to Determine Fault for a Car Accident
How do you record this evidence so you can communicate it to those who will determine liability?
With broken glass, twisted metal, shredded tires, and other debris, car accidents tend to be a bit messy. This debris, and other environmental conditions, can tell a jury or insurance company a lot about what happened and who may have been at fault for the accident. The tricky question becomes, how do you record this evidence so you can communicate it to those who will determine liability? This article offers some tips.
What You Can Do at the Scene
There are some obvious things that you can do after an accident to protect yourself. First, call the police and have an office come to the scene so that he or she can observe and record evidence, and include it in an official record -- the police report. Once the report is available, you or your attorney should obtain a copy of it, as well as whatever pictures the officers have taken.
If you happen to have your own camera, take as many pictures as you can. If there are any skid marks, take pictures of those, facing the direction that the vehicle was moving. If you can do anything to show scale, this will help in the future. Accident scene experts can look at skid marks and determine approximately how fast a vehicle was travelling or when the brakes were first engaged. You may be able to use these findings to show that the other driver was speeding or that you really had no opportunity to stop before the crash. While the investigating officer should take his or her own pictures of these marks -- which you should also be able to obtain through a discovery request -- you will want to make sure you have access to your own photos. (Get more tips on Taking Car Accident Scene Photos.)
Other Sources of Evidence to Consider
Red-Light Cameras. They won’t be available in all circumstances, but red light cameras are springing up in many parts of the country. If there is a red light camera that covers a portion of the intersection where your crash occurred, the camera may have recorded the seconds just before the accident, or captured the crash itself. If an insurance provider claims that the other driver was travelling below the speed limit, and you disagree, it may be possible to determine the vehicle’s actual speed using the red light camera’s time-stamped photos -- by comparing the vehicle’s position with stationary landmarks, for example. Using a little math, some people have gotten out of speeding tickets this way; you may be able to prove that you were driving under the speed limit, or that the other driver was exceeding it.
It can be difficult to obtain red-light camera photos, as the system is typically maintained by a third-party contractor. You may need to make more than a few phone calls, but start with your local municipality and go from there.
Intersection Records. If your accident occurred at an intersection, you may want to take a look at the intersection itself. Was it unsafely designed, built, or maintained? Take pictures of the intersection and any traffic signals or signage. You may also be able to ask the local municipality for a signal timing chart, signal maintenance logs, and the original plans for the intersection (to see how it may have changed).
Towing Records. Towing records will sometimes contain valuable information about the accident, as interpreted by a person who has spent a lot of time around the aftermath of traffic accidents. They can also contain observations about the state of the drivers when the tow truck operator arrived.
9-1-1 Calls. If you want to show how severe an accident was or how immediately apparent an injury was (or was not), you may want to request the audio of any 9-1-1 calls following the accident. Most cities today keep digital recordings of 9-1-1 calls, but they may not do so for very long, so it is important to attempt to obtain these as soon as possible.
Get Help from an Attorney
Getting all the pieces of evidence from an accident can be a challenge, and it’s easy to miss little things that could end up being hugely relevant. Hiring an experienced accident attorney is one way to help ensure that all available evidence is gathered, authenticated, and presented to the insurance company or to the court. An attorney will also be able to provide the necessary experts to interpret this evidence.