Witness statements can make or break your personal injury claim. If you have no witnesses or do not want to name any witnesses, then you will look suspicious. Therefore, as soon as you call a personal injury lawyer, you should find witnesses and talk to them. The longer you wait, the more likely they are to give distorted statements because most people quickly forget the details of events that doesn’t actually involve them.
Who can be your witness?
A witness is a person who actually saw the accident happen. But he or she could also be a person who did not actually see the accident, but who arrived at the scene of accident soon after and saw that you were injured or had suffered damages. A witness could also be someone who heard an involved party talking about the accident implying that the accident happened due to the fault of someone other than you.
How to approach witnesses?
Talk to the people who are or were at the scene of accident. Introduce yourself. Ask them politely about what they saw and where exactly they were. Ask them if they would be able to give a statement. If they are unwilling or uncooperative, do not push them. You want them to be on your side, so do not say anything that might irritate them or scare them away. If the witness is someone you know, then things will be much easier.
What to do if a witness refuses to talk?
A witness may refuse to talk for reasons of his/her own. If that happens, then there is nothing you are can do. You cannot force him/her to talk or give a written statement, threaten, or bribe a witness. The only thing you can do is get a subpoena from the court once you have filed a lawsuit. A subpoena is a writ ordering a person to appear in a court.
What to do if a witness agrees to talk?
If a witness is cooperative and agrees to talk, then write down his/her name, address and phone number. Explain to him/her that you may need a written statement to corroborate the facts you have presented. With the consent of the witness, write down what he/she has told you as soon as possible. You can write it on the spot if you can. Send a typed copy to him/her, requesting him/her to review it and sign it, and then send it back to you.
If a witness agrees with your version of what happened, but has reservations about getting involved (which often happens), then write down what he/she has told you and ask them to sign it. Don’t forget to get their name, address and phone number.
What rights does the witness have?
Even after agreeing to become a witness, the witness has the right to refuse to make his/her phone number public, refuse to give written statement, reject an in-person meeting, and refuse to take part in a recorded interview. However, you may politely request them to agree to these things.
The witness can withhold as much personal information as he/she wishes. He is not required to revisit the scene of the crash if he/she doesn’t wish to. He/she doesn’t have to sign on any written document if he/she doesn’t want to. Once he/she has been interviewed by the adjuster, he/she doesn’t have to repeat himself/herself to any other representatives of the insurer.
What NOT to say to a witness
There are a multitude of things that you cannot say to a witness, as this will completely derail your credibility and worse, are actually considered coercion.
- Tell a witness to withhold any information that might put you in trouble.
- Feed your witness statements that you want emphasized.
- Instruct him/her to say the things that you want to be said.
Your witnesses have the ability to make or break your case with what they say. A knowledgeable personal injury lawyer can help you gather witness statements to strengthen your claim.