Gather Evidence to Help Your Car Accident Claim
Take these steps as soon as you can to preserve your legal rights and bolster any claim you end up filing over the accident.
If you get into a car accident, one of the best ways to protect your legal rights is to gather evidence as soon as possible. That way, you'll be prepared if you end up making a personal injury or property damage against another driver. Let’s look at the types of evidence that you should try to gather in a typical car accident case.
Photographs of the Accident Scene
If you are in a condition to take pictures immediately after the accident and have a camera or a phone with a camera handy, you should take pictures of the accident scene.
Take pictures of the area of the accident from all directions -- close-ups as well as pictures from further away. You never know at that moment which angles best illustrate the accident scene, so it is always best to take pictures from as many angles as possible.
If either or both vehicles left skid marks, definitely take pictures of those. This is where you want to shoot from further away so that you can have a panoramic view of the skid marks.
You also want to take pictures of any traffic control devices (i.e., traffic lights or stop or yield signs) at the scene. In your pictures, you want to make clear who had the light or the stop sign.
If you think that someone’s view of the accident scene will be relevant, you would want to take pictures that show the view. For example, if the other driver told you after the accident that he/she couldn’t see you coming, you would want to take pictures that showed how far back the other driver had a view of the accident scene.
Remember that, in car accident litigation, a picture truly is worth a thousand words. If the other driver said that he/she couldn’t see the accident location, but the pictures show that he/she had a clear view of the accident location for five hundred feet, then the other driver is likely going to lose because the insurer and the jury will think that he/she simply wasn’t paying attention. (Learn more about Proving Fault for a Car Accident.)
Photographs of the Vehicles Involved
You should also take pictures of both (or all) vehicles involved in the accident. Specifically, you want to photograph the areas of damage from afar and also close-up. The damage to the vehicles can tell insurers and juries a lot about how a car accident occurred, how fast the drivers were going, and who was at fault. So make sure to get good pictures of the vehicle damage.
Contact Information of Other Drivers and Witnesses
This should be a no-brainer. If possible, don’t let the other driver leave the scene without identifying him/herself. However, if it is a hit and run, don’t chase the other driver. Just get the license plate and call the police. But if the other driver stops and claims not to have a driver's license with them, ask to see any official document or license with a name and address, for example, the car registration, insurance card, or even a credit card.
Neutral witnesses can be very important in a car accident case. If you are aware of any other drivers or pedestrians who witnessed any part of the accident or the other driver’s actions before the accident, try to get the contact information (address and phone) of those people.
Police Reports and Other Official Reports
If the police come to the scene of the accident, they will prepare an official report. This is a public record in any state. You have an absolute right to go to the police station and get a copy of the police report. In any car accident case, you should get a copy of the police report.
In many states, the police report will list the officer’s conclusion of who was at fault for the accident. Even though the police officer generally didn’t witness the accident, his/her conclusion of who caused the accident is very important evidence. Insurers always want to know what the investigating police officers think with respect to how the accident occurred.
You also have an absolute right to get copies of any accident reports that the other driver filed with the state department of motor vehicles. Many states require drivers who were involved in car accident to file a report with the department of motor vehicles. This report can be very important in proving liability in a car accident claim. Sometimes drivers write one thing in their accident report and say something else to the police, the insurer, or at trial. If you can use this report to expose an inconsistency by the other driver, that will help your claim immensely.
Get more in-depth information on Resolving a Car Accident Claim.