Oftentimes, when people come in to visit with us, they’ve been involved in a traffic accident. It can seem pretty clear to them at the time who was responsible.
Those are circumstances where you might be waiting at a red light or you’re in traffic and somebody runs into you from behind. Clearly, in that case, you didn’t do anything to cause the car crash. In fact, that person probably got out and took responsibility.
There are other times when it’s a little more complex. In those circumstances, it’s important that you do everything you can to try to protect as much evidence to prove that you weren’t responsible and to prove that the person who hit you was responsible.
Start With The Accident Report
One of the first things we have to discuss with people when they come to meet with us is the accident report. Oftentimes, the accident report will have the other driver receiving a ticket or giving some type of a statement, accepting responsibility.
And people wonder, “Is that good enough? If they told the police officer that they were responsible, or if the officer gave them the ticket even when they denied that they did anything wrong, doesn’t that prove that they were responsible?”
The short answer in Florida is no. In Florida, in car accident cases, anything that’s said to a police officer, or any statement that’s written down in the accident report itself, is not and cannot be used as evidence if you have to try that case.
The driver gets out of the car and tells the highway patrolman, “Hey, it’s my fault. I did it. I’m sorry.” Just because they told that to the police officer, it doesn’t mean that they can’t argue otherwise to a jury because those statements will never come in. Or the driver said, “Hey, I’m not at fault”, but the police officer gave him a ticket anyway, we can’t tell the jury that they got a ticket because that’s not admissible in a civil case.
There are some exceptions to that.
Anything that a police officer observes at the scene can be used. For example, where the vehicles were located or where the damage or evidence of the collision is in the roadway. Anything that that police officer observes independent from witness statements can be used as evidence in a trial.
Any statements that anybody gives at the scene, if they’re not talking to a police officer, those statements aren’t protected either. If the driver comes up and tells you they’re responsible, you can testify about that in court. If you overhear the driver on the phone telling somebody that they were at fault, that’s evidence that can be used as well.
Why would a driver deny responsibility?
From a practical standpoint, if a person was clearly at fault for the accident and the police officer did issue them a ticket, many times that person’s insurance company won’t try to come back later and argue that their driver wasn’t at fault. There are cases where, even in spite of a ticket, or in those accidents where the police officer arrives after the crash and doesn’t issue any tickets, that an insurance company may deny that their driver was responsible.
What can you do if you’re faced with that situation?
At that point, the most important thing you can do is try to find any witnesses to the crash; the statements of those witnesses will be very important to your case. Remember, you can always testify about what happened in a traffic accident, but the insurance company or the defendant may stand up and argue to the jury that you’re just saying that because you’re the one who is asking for damages. In other words, they’re going to attack your credibility.
Witnesses to a car crash will add extra weight to your argument, especially if they are not the ones bringing the lawsuit and more so if they are not a family member or friend. Their testimony can be useful in proving that the other driver was responsible for the crash.
If you’re in an accident and there’s somebody riding with you, make sure that you keep in touch with that person so that you can get their statement later if you need to prove that the other driver was responsible.
If it was a multi-car accident where another vehicle was involved, make sure you get the contact information for the other drivers as well because they may be able to support your version of what happened and put the responsibility and the blame on the person who caused the crash.
If there were other people around you when the crash occurs, you may want to try to flag them down. Stay safe and do it in a responsible manner, but you need to get their information if they witnessed the crash so you can talk to them later on.
Again, this is all about protecting yourself from those situations where an at-fault driver tries to avoid responsibility.
One other thing to keep in mind is if you have a crash in front of any businesses, they may have video cameras that record the event. It’s worth going inside and talking to those employees to get their information, to see if they witnessed anything or, more importantly, to see if they have access to the video or can put you in touch with somebody who can give you a copy of that.
A number of times we’ve represented people who have been involved in crashes in front of gas stations and the video cameras show exactly what happened. That’s proved useful on more than one occasion when the at-fault driver has tried to say that they either didn’t run into our client or that our client did something to cause the crash. When you’re able to play that video at trial, it shows a completely different story that can help you prove liability and uncover and expose the false statements that that other driver is making.
There may be occasions where you’re just not able to get any witness statements. We would recommend that – as long as you can do so safely and without exposing yourself to the risk of getting struck by another car – you take some pictures before you move your vehicles out of the roadway. You want pictures that show where the damage to the vehicles are and that show where the vehicles were located when the collision occurred.
Make sure you take pictures not only of the damage but of the surroundings as well so that we can later reconstruct where your vehicle was and prove that the crash occurred the way you say it did. Those pictures can also be useful when taking the deposition of the at-fault driver, as it can help show contradictions in their testimony if they try to change their story later.
Gather As Much Evidence As You Can
Ultimately, these are all important steps to keep in mind if you or a loved one have been involved in an accident because you don’t want to be faced with not only having to prove your injuries as a result of the crash but also proving that you didn’t do anything to cause the crash.
Just because the driver of the other vehicle received a ticket, that doesn’t mean that you may not have to prove that they were at fault for causing the crash later on. Take those steps that we suggest immediately following a crash to help preserve the vital evidence that may be necessary to prove your case.
At the end of the day, if you can’t prove that the other driver caused the crash, the jury may never get to consider whether or not you were hurt as a result of that crash. Proving the other driver to be responsible is often the most important part of any personal injury case.
If you or a loved one have been injured in a crash and you have any questions about how to prove your case or steps you should take to ensure that you can prove the other driver to be responsible, or you have any questions about how you could prove that the other driver was at fault for the crash, give us a call today for a free consultation with a personal injury attorney. You can reach us at 1-800-438-3606.