Evidence in Auto Accidents
Evidence is the foundation of any personal injury claim. Evidence is comprised of the documents, testimony, and/or photographs that tell the story of your accident and how it affected your life — everything that you’ll need for a successful claim. Without evidence, any claim falls apart. Evidence is what gives you leverage in negotiating a settlement, and it’s a necessary part of any potential personal injury lawsuit.
You may find yourself feeling confused or overwhelmed at the thought of having to gather evidence of your accident. You may not know what evidence you’ll need, or how to get it. Gathering evidence is one of many important roles a personal injury attorney may play in your claim. An attorney with experience negotiating insurance claims and trying personal injury cases will have thorough knowledge of the kind of evidence needed in your case, and where to find it.
Process for Collecting Evidence
Once you hire a Chicago car accident law firm to pursue your claim, your lawyer will start gathering evidence to support your case. This is typically done in a couple of stages.
- Investigation — Usually, the first thing your attorney will do is conduct an investigation into the circumstances of your accident. This may involve hiring a private investigator to find information and interview witnesses, or hiring an accident reconstruction expert to examine every facet of your accident, how it happened, and who is likely at fault. The initial investigation also is likely to include getting copies of your medical records to evaluate the extent of your injuries. The goal of the investigation will be to obtain the evidence necessary to show what happened, who is at fault, and how you’ve been affected by the accident. The evidence collected in the initial investigation typically is used to make a demand for financial compensation of your injuries. In many instances, your lawyer may be able to settle your claim without having to take the step of filing a lawsuit.
- Discovery — If the insurance company for the person who caused your accident refuses to settle your claim, a lawsuit may become necessary. Part of the lawsuit process is a period of evidence gathering known as discovery. During discovery, all of the parties in the lawsuit trade information through a series of formal requests. Parties have to respond to these requests or face sanctions from the court.
Important Types of Evidence in Auto Accidents
There are certain kinds of evidence your lawyer will need to support your claim. Your lawyer has the job of demonstrating that you were injured in an accident, and that someone else caused your injuries. The following types of evidence help your lawyer establish the facts of what happened, and help your lawyer assign a value to your claim for purposes of making a demand for compensation.
- Medical Records — Medical records document your injuries and the treatments you’ve had to undergo following your accident. For example, if you broke your leg in a car accident, your medical records would document the nature of your fracture and the procedures your doctor used to treat your broken leg. Medical records can include physician’s notes and/or the results of tests such as x-rays and MRIs. Your lawyer typically will ask you to sign an authorization so that he or she can obtain these records on your behalf.
- Bills and Estimates — Medical bills, repair estimates, and repair bills help establish the costs you’ve had to incur because of the accident. This helps demonstrate the financial value of your claim.
- Photographs — Pictures are an important piece of evidence because they help tell the story of your accident in a concrete way. Photos of your injuries and/or damage to your property help prove that you suffered harm. They also help make your injuries real for members of a jury who may be seeing you years after the accident when your injuries have healed and are no longer outwardly visible.
- Accident Reports — Accident reports provide a narrative of what happened to you when you were injured. They also can help assign blame. If you were in a car crash, the accident report written by police may note that someone was cited for a traffic infraction or criminal traffic offense, and that can become evidence of that driver’s fault in the crash.
- Pay Stubs and Tax Returns — One form of compensation you may seek when you’ve been injured in an accident is payment for lost wages. Copies of your pay stubs and tax returns help demonstrate your financial losses, and help your lawyer calculate your future losses if you remain unable to work as you did before the accident.
- Insurance Policies — It’s a good idea to have copies of your own insurance policies so that you can know what’s covered and what isn’t. Your lawyer also may want to request copies of the insurance policies for the person who caused your accident. Your lawyer will be in a better position to negotiate your claim if he or she has a copy of the policy. A copy of the policy will be especially important if the insurance company disputes that your accident is covered by the other person’s policy. In that case, your lawyer can try to argue for an interpretation of the policy language so that you get compensated for your injuries.
- Witness Testimony — It’s important to know the complete story of your accident, or as close to the complete story as is possible. That means talking to anyone else involved or who may have seen or heard the accident, and getting their version down in writing. You’ll want to know whose stories match yours and whose stories contradict yours. The contradictions will need to be addressed if your claim is going to succeed.
- Expert Witness Testimony — Some accident claims need the support of experts in their fields who can testify about how your accident relates to your injuries and damages. Experts may be doctors, engineers, or other specialists.