When seeking financial compensation for a car accident, witness testimony can be strong evidence in support of your claim. It can also be strong evidence against you if the insurance company has witnesses who dispute your version of the events. With this in mind, credibility is important on both sides: You will want to make sure your witnesses have as much credibility as possible, and you will want to attack the credibility of the insurance company’s witnesses by all means available.
So, how is the credibility of car accident witnesses assessed in court?
Judges and jurors examine a number of different factors in order to assess witnesses’ credibility. When preparing your case for trial, your lawyer will consider all of these factors when deciding which witnesses to put on the stand. Your lawyer will also consider these factors when deciding how best to attack the insurance company’s defense. Your lawyer will be able to learn the identities of the insurance company’s witnesses in advance, and then he or she will be able to research their backgrounds in order to determine how best to attack their credibility in court.
Who Can Serve as a Witness in a Car Accident Case?
Before we go too deep into assessing witnesses’ credibility, it is first important to clarify what it means to be a witness in a car accident case. Witnesses in car accident cases can broadly be broken down into three categories:
- Eye Witnesses to the Accident Itself – These are witnesses who saw the accident happen first-hand. After a car accident, there are several steps you should try to take at the scene (provided that you are physically able to do so). These include collecting the names and contact information of any eye witnesses. If you are not able to collect any eye witnesses’ information, then your law firm may be able to identify witnesses during its investigation. In any case, the purpose of calling eye witnesses is generally to help prove who was at fault in the collision.
- Eye Witnesses to the Effects of Your Injuries – These are witnesses who can testify to the effects of the collision. In most cases, these will be friends, family members, and coworkers. If you have a fault-based claim, you are entitled to compensation for your financial and non-financial losses, and the people who are closest to you will be able to help paint a picture of the various non-financial ways your injuries impact your life.
- Expert Witnesses – These are witnesses your law firm (or the insurance company’s defense firm) hires to help prove (or disprove) the technical aspects of your case. For example, expert witnesses can include accident reconstructionists, engineers, medical doctors and financial planners. Expert witnesses will typically be tasked with examining a specific aspect of your case (i.e. who was at fault or how much your injuries will cost you), and then they will prepare an expert report which they will review on the stand at trial.
How Do You Assess an Eye Witness’s Credibility?
With regard to eye witnesses, assessing credibility is a matter of understanding how reliable their testimony is likely to be. Will the judge or jurors trust the witness? Or, will they be distracted wondering whether or not the witness might be lying? In order to answer these questions, it is necessary to focus on more-specific questions such as:
- How is the witness’s eyesight? If an eye witness has poor eyesight, this may call into question the reliability of his or her version of the events. On the other hand, if a witness has glasses or contacts (and can testify that he or she was wearing them at the relevant time), then this could be a non-issue.
- How is the witness’s memory? Does the witness have a strong memory? Is he or she consistently able to recall specific details from the past? Or, does he or she frequently answer questions with “I’m not sure” or “I don’t know”?
- Is the witness an honest person? If a particular witness has a history of being dishonest, this can bring the reliability of his or her testimony in your case into question.
- Is the witness a convicted felon? While not all convicted felons are dishonest, having a criminal record is a factor that will frequently raise questions with regard to an eye witness’s credibility.
- Is the witness a friend or relative of the other driver? Familial and social relationships can raise concerns regarding credibility as well. However, it may be possible to overcome these concerns by presenting evidence of an eye witness’s integrity.
How Do You Assess an Expert Witness’s Credibility?
The process of assessing an expert witness’s credibility is a bit different. Generally, establishing or refuting an expert witness’s credibility is a matter of examining his or her credentials.
What is the expert’s educational background? How long has the expert been practicing in the relevant field? Has he or she testified in car accident cases previously? What qualifies him or her as an “expert” on the specific issue at hand? These questions (among many others) are all critical to determining whether an expert witness’s testimony is likely to carry weight with a judge or jury.
Proving (or Disproving) a Witness’s Credibility Requires Experienced Legal Representation
Whether you were injured at an intersection, in a merging accident, or in any other type of vehicle collision, witness testimony could be crucial to your claim for just compensation. Assessing witness credibility is just one of the many ways an experienced car accident lawyer can help you.
At Brian D. Guralnick Injury Lawyers, we bring decades of experience to proving our clients’ rights. Our board-certified trial team is well-versed in all aspects of proving and disproving witnesses’ credibility; and, if we need to take your case to trial, we will do everything necessary to build the strongest possible case on your behalf.
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You should not take any information in this blog as legal advice in any situation. If you need expertise for a specific issue of yours, contact a qualified Personal Injury attorney.