Questions to Ask a Car Accident Witness
Unfortunately, car accidents are a daily fact of life on the busy roads and freeways in Southern California. This means that a large percentage of car accidents occur along busy intersections and streets where there may be multiple witnesses who saw what happened. When it comes to determining fault in a car accident, witnesses often play an important role. However, a witness account is only possible if their contact information is gathered at the scene and if the right questions are asked. Of course, not every witness will have useful information. But even one or two witnesses can prove invaluable when presenting a claim to an insurance company or seeking damages from the negligent driver.
At the scene, you may be too shaken up to gather much information beyond the names and contact information for the witnesses. This is should not be a problem as long as you obtained the contact information. After you have tended to your immediate injuries, you can always go back and speak with the witnesses later.
Every accident is unique. But there are some basic questions you should keep in mind should you have the opportunity to question a witness right away.
How to Question a Car Accident Witness
As you question a car accident witness, you will need to guide the conversation in order to make sure the witness provides you with the information that you need. Starting with an open-ended question is a good strategy, but you will need to be ready to ask specific questions to get information that was left out.
Focus on the following:
- Timing during the accident, where the vehicles came from, their positions before and after the accident, and how the collision occurred
- What distance the cars were from each other before and after the collision
- What the weather seemed to be a contributing factor, such as slippery roads or glare
- Specific details regarding the scene of the crash, including street lights, other cars, etc. If possible have them draw a diagram of the accident.
Top Questions to Ask a Car Accident Witness
There are some specific questions that you should ask any car accident witness:
- Can I Have Your Contact Information?
This is the first and most important question to ask because there is a good chance that the witness will need to be contacted to further explain what they saw at the scene of the accident. Even if you get everything you think you might need from a witness at the scene of the accident, there will always be some need for additional follow-up in the future. Your lawyer or insurance company may want confirmation of the witness’ account. The witness may also recall something that may be important, so be sure to also provide the witness with your contact information.
- Can You Explain (In Your Own Words) What You Saw?
It is always a good idea to start with an open-ended question that invites the witness to provide as much detail as possible. You do not want to ask a leading question like, “Did you see the other driver hit me?”, as that may put the witness on the defensive or make them feel like you are fishing for a particular answer. It is better to let the witness establish their own narrative before asking any more specific follow-up questions.
Obviously, the exact questions will vary based on the kind of accident and the number of vehicles involved. But here are a few examples of follow-up questions you might need to ask:
- Could you describe the general position of each car prior to the accident?
- Did either driver appear to be speeding?
- Did it seem like either driver slammed on their brakes right before the accident?
- Did either vehicle appear to be driving erratically?
- How much time passed between the first sign of trouble and the actual impact?
- Did either driver run a red light or speed through a yellow light at an unsafe speed?
- Did you observe any other kind of traffic infraction, such as an improper lane change or an illegal U-turn?
- Did you observe any damage that was not apparent to the drivers?
- Did the other driver appear to be injured or intoxicated?
- Where Were You Located Just Before and During the Accident?
The location that a witness is in will affect how well they could see the accident. Factors such as how far away they were from the scene as well as if they were inside a vehicle or on the road as a pedestrian will help determine what they could have seen. Ideally, there will be more than one witness and each of them will have been in a different position so the scene can be recreated from multiple angles.
When asking a witness about their location, seek as many specifics as possible. Do not just ask “how far away” they were. Also ask about whether they were closer to one driver, and whether they were in a position to observe any traffic signals or other vehicles involved. If possible, you may even want to sketch out a rough diagram of the intersection or accident scene and ask the witness to mark their approximate location.
Other factors to ask about are:
- How clear a view did the witness have of the accident?
- Did the witness have anything obstructing their view such as a mailbox or even a building?
- What was the weather like at the time of the accident?
- What was the light like? Was it dark, dusk, dawn or daylight?
- Was the sun in their eyes at the time of the accident?
- What Were You Doing Just Before the Accident?
Many witnesses did not have their undivided attention focused on an accident at the exact moment of impact. It is therefore important to establish the context of the witness’ observations. If the witness was distracted by something else and only turned to look after hearing a crash, their testimony may not be of much value to you.
- Did You See Any Other Witnesses Who Might Have More Information?
Sometimes, the best thing a witness can do is provide you with leads to other witnesses who were in a better position to see what happened. Also keep in mind, a good number of people in Southern California are tourists rather than residents. Many of these witnesses may not be available later if you need them to testify at trial. So the more people you can identify as potential witnesses at the outset, the better.
- Is There Anything Else I Should Know?
It is quite possible that the witness will have more information to share at the end of the conversation; maybe something that you didn’t think to ask them. Closing with an open-ended question is the best way to ensure that you didn’t miss any vital information the witness has that might be relevant to your accident.
Should You Speak with an Attorney?
Thousands of people die in car accidents each year, which is why the damage sustained in these crashes should never be taken lightly. If you were harmed in a crash, your first step should always be to call 911 and ask for medical attention. Once you have been properly taken care of, make sure you contact an experienced personal injury attorney for help attaining justice and compensation for your injuries.
Call us now at 1-877-241-9554 to learn more about your options. A free consultation is just a phone call away.