How Are Witness Statements Evaluated When Determining Liability?
February 29th, 2016
RI & MA Attorneys Fighting for Car Accident Victims
Police officers called to the scene of a two- or three-car accident in Massachusetts or Rhode Island often recount that there are just as many versions of what happened as there were persons behind the wheel. Just by listening to the drivers, the officers say, it can be quite difficult to determine who was at-fault in the collision.
Sometimes, of course, the physical evidence tends to verify one driver’s version over the others, but witness statements by non-drivers can be crucial in establishing a claim against the “party at-fault.” In the end, a jury may be called upon to hear and judge the credibility of various witnesses, and to weigh what one says against the story told by another.
If you are involved in an accident in Massachusetts or Rhode Island, how can witness credibility work for or against you, as you seek to recover for your personal injury?
Credibility: Should Anyone Believe What the Witness is Saying?
Virtually everyday and in all walks of life, we make assessments of the credibility of someone who recounts a set of facts or even opinions. The same is true for witnesses of an automobile accident. Some of the “believability” factors that we typically consider are:
- Physical perspective: Was the witness driving one of the other vehicles at the time of the accident? If so, was the person’s attention focused more on avoiding the incident and less on the particular arrangement of the vehicles, relative speed, and similar issues? Or was the witness, for example, seated in the rear of a small vehicle, with limited visibility?
- Time perspective: Did the witness have an opportunity to observe the accident over a period of time long enough to see what actually happened? Does the witness relate a split-second situation? If so, how credible is his or her version of the accident?
- Medical condition: How well can the witness actually see? Is the witness otherwise sometimes confused or infirm?
- Weather condition: What visibility limitations were experienced by the witness, due to weather?
- Other factors: For example, had the witness been drinking? Is there any incentive to lie about what he or she saw?
Some matters affect the credibility of a witness that have nothing to do with physical aspects of the accident itself, such as:
- Has the witness ever been convicted of a felony?
- Does the witness have a particular stake in the event? Is the person, for example, related to one of the parties involved? Does the witness stand to gain financially, directly or indirectly, based upon his or her own testimony?
If Credible, Can the Witness Actually Articulate a Coherent Story?
No matter how well the witness could see the accident scene unfold, no matter how perfect the time and physical perspective of the witness, the issue often remains: Can the witness articulate the facts so that others, such as a jury, can understand them?
In one recent case, an injured party was asked about his perspective. He had been sitting in the front seat of one of the involved vehicles, and his attorney was trying to establish that the witness had a clear view of the accident with sufficient time to understand how it had occurred.
The attorney asked, “How long, from start to finish, did it take for the accident to occur?” The witness quickly – and thoughtlessly – responded, “Oh, just a couple of minutes.” What the witness meant to say was that he had seen things clearly and that the accident had occurred fairly quickly.
On cross-examination, however, the opposing attorney said, “Let’s pause for ‘a couple of minutes’ to give the jury an understanding of what you are talking about.” The attorney later argued that if a car is moving at 60 miles per hour, it will travel two miles in ‘a couple of minutes.’ Accidents don’t occur over a two-mile stretch of highway. It seems the witness had destroyed his own credibility.
Witness Preparation – Not Witness Coaching – is an Important Part of Proving the Claim
A good, credible witness – one who tells the truth in a clear and understandable manner – can win a case. A poor witness can lose it.
If you or a loved one has been injured in an auto accident, you need skillful, energetic, and experienced attorneys like Bottaro Law to help you prepare your case. While only a small percentage of cases are taken all the way to trial, case preparation is still important, since insurance adjusters can be more difficult than jurors. Bottaro Law has an excellent record of recovering damages suffered in auto accidents and other situations. For a free consultation regarding the specifics of your case, call (401) 777–7777 or complete this short information form found on our web site.