If you’ve ever been in a car accident, you’ve probably had people tell you to get a statement from any witnesses when gathering evidence at the scene. Once you’ve identified who they are, you may be wondering what you should ask them.
We’ve compiled a list of five of the most important questions to ask a car accident witness at the scene of a car crash. The best way to get this information is to get a video recording of them answering these questions and then get their contact information so that you can follow up with them later if needed.
Asking the car accident witness what they saw in the form of an open-ended question allows them to describe what they experienced in their own words. It’s important that you don’t ask any leading questions that make them feel cornered and forced to respond a certain way.
Don’t pressure the witness to say what you think happened; rather, give them a chance to explain what they saw. This way, they can tell you as many details as necessary, versus if you asked them a closed question like, “You saw the other car run the red light and hit me, right?” They may respond yes or no and not give further details.
Another reason you should not ask closed-ended questions is because if they are asked about the accident later on, they may give more details and it can look like they lied or changed their story, so you want to allow them to tell the full story from their point of view from the beginning.
Having the witness explain what they were doing before they witnessed the accident gives context to their testimony. If they were standing on the sidewalk waiting to cross the street at a crosswalk, they may have seen the entire accident, including the moments leading up to the crash.
However, if they were driving by and only saw the cars as they were colliding, they may not be a fully reliable witness. Ask the car accident witness what they were doing immediately before the accident, if there was anything blocking their view of the accident, and at what point they noticed the accident. This will establish just how much of the accident they witnessed.
Ask the witness what details they noticed about the accident scene, the other driver, and the other driver’s vehicle. This gives them a chance to think back and provide additional information that may be helpful. For example, they may have noticed that the other driver ran a red light, which you may not have been able to see. They also may have noticed that the other driver seemed injured or intoxicated after the accident, or that the other driver’s car seemed to stall in an intersection just before the accident. Ask the car accident witness to give as many details as possible about the scene of the crash and the other driver, such as if they heard or saw the other driver say or do anything after the accident.
You should also ask the witness if they saw anyone else who may have seen the accident, because this can help you identify other potential witnesses. They may tell you that their friend was with them but had to leave, so they stayed behind to give a statement. If this is the case, get the contact information for that person.
Sometimes you may not be able to get statements from all witnesses while you are still at the scene of the crash, especially if you are injured and need to seek prompt medical attention. If the witness you are speaking to can point out another witness, you can get their contact information before leaving the scene of the accident. This way, you can contact that witness and ask them these questions, too.
Ask the car accident witness if they have any relevant experience or expertise with accidents. They may say no, but then again, you may be speaking to a former police officer or attorney without realizing it. If they have any expertise in car accidents, they may be a more credible witness, so it’s helpful to know that up front.
Asking a car accident witness the questions above is important because witness testimonies are an important piece of evidence in car accident cases. The testimony of an unbiased person who has no personal interest in the accident but saw the whole thing can help the court better understand what happened at the scene. Moreover, a judge and jury may trust an impartial bystander’s account of what happened more than they trust biased testimony from either party involved.