How Witness Credibility Affects a Car Accident Claim

Having the right witness -- and making sure he or she is credible -- can make or break your car accident claim.

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Witnesses can be essential to the success of any car accident claim. In many car accident scenarios, the only witnesses are the drivers of each vehicle. In those situations it is usually the word of one driver against the other. Of course, if each driver believes the other to be at fault, the testimony of those drivers often doesn't do much to help determine the true cause of the accident. That is why the presence of additional witnesses, known as “third party” witnesses, can become so crucial. In this article, we'll talk about the role of witnesses in a car accident claim, and why credibility of those witnesses is crucial to your claim.

The Importance of Witnesses

When a car accident claim is presented to an insurance company, one of the first questions an insurance adjusterwants answered is, “Were there any witnesses besides the drivers?” This is because an adjuster knows that each driver will usually have a competing version of the accident. Often there are discrepancies or conflicts between the accounts of the two drivers. The insurance adjuster will often decide which version of the event is more accurate based on which version is supported by the testimony of any third party witnesses.

Are All Witnesses Credible?

Even if a third party witness did observe the car accident, the witness’ testimony is helpful only if that person is credible. There are many reasons for this.

Typically, persons who see a car accident are not attempting at that moment to take a mental inventory of the placement and movement of the vehicles for future reference. Rather -- and especially if they are driving a vehicle that is in close proximity to those involved in the accident -- some witnesses are appropriately concerned about their own safety and are trying their best to avoid getting caught in the crash.

Events move very quickly during a car accident, including everything from speeding vehicles to cars that suddenly run red lights. Split-second reactions are required by everyone involved in order to safely respond to these events. It is only when the accident is over do people then try to piece together what they just observed. So, a third party’s observations are sometimes unreliable.

What Factors Affect Credibility?

Determining the credibility of a witness depends on many factors. Some of those have to do with the location and viewpoint of the witness in relation to the car accident:

  • Was the witness driving a car, and therefore focused on avoiding the accident? Or was the witness a nearby pedestrian on a sidewalk, watching the accident unfold from a safe distance?
  • Did the witness actually observe the accident from start to finish? Or was the witness’ attention drawn to the accident at the sound of the first vehicle impact?
  • Did the witness have the opportunity to observe a car for a sufficient period to determine whether the car was speeding?
  • Was the witness distracted because of walking the dog or attending to a crying baby?
  • Is the witness relying only on personal observations? Or is the witness also relying on observations another person may have shared?

Other factors have to do with the witness’ character:

  • Is the witness a convicted felon?
  • Does the witness have a reputation for dishonesty?
  • Does the witness have an interest in the outcome of the claim? For example, is the witness a friend or family member of one of the drivers?

Still other factors involve the witness’ physical condition:

  • Does the witness have poor eyesight or hearing?
  • If the witness has poor eyesight, was the witness wearing the prescribed glasses or corrective lenses?
  • Was the witness intoxicated at the time of the observations?
  • Does the witness have a poor memory?
  • Is the witness easily confused?

Then there are the inherent problems that develop just because people observe events differently. For example, where one person might describe a car as speeding, another person observing the same car might conclude the car was traveling within the speed limit. It doesn’t mean one of the witnesses is lying, merely that people can have different opinions and draw different conclusions even though they’re observing the same event.

It's easy to see that a number of different variables affect a witness's credibility. So, when presenting an accident claim to an insurance company it is important to not only provide information regarding any witnesses who support your account of the accident, but to also ensure you are providing the most reliable and credible witnesses available. If a witness lacks credibility, his or her testimony will not be much help to -- and may actually end up hindering -- your car accident claim. Learn more about When the Insurance Adjuster Asks About Your Witnesses.

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