Many people are aware of the importance of preserving evidence after an accident, even if they don’t know that’s what the process is called. For example, in the age of cell phones most motorists have the foresight to take pictures at the scene of a car accident. Most people also record the names of witnesses and collect the other party’s insurance information.
However, preserving evidence means a lot more than just taking pictures, though photos are very important. Evidence is a crucial part of most legal proceedings. It is the stuff that proves the claims people make in court. For example, if you are in a car accident, evidence might include your car, debris in the roadway, you, any visible injuries, photos of the location where the accident happened (especially if taken at the time of the incident), the testimony of witnesses, reports made by police or fire personnel, and the like. The same goes for other types of accidents such as those caused by faulty equipment or devices.
What to do
In order to use evidence in court, a number of steps must be followed to preserve the original evidence, and also to substantiate that evidence. In other words, you must have the actual evidence, and you must have proof that it is what you say it is. Let’s go through the basics.
Gather the pieces
Immediately after an incident (or as soon as is possible) you, or someone helping you, should gather up everything that was a part of the incident. This might be a vehicle from a car accident, the shoes you were wearing when you slipped in that store, the broken shards from the drill that exploded, or anything else that contributed in causing your injury. Too many people simply throw away the broken item or damaged shoes, thinking that it’s just junk.
Photos should be taken of everything including the extent of any personal injuries, the scene of the incident, and the parts of whatever caused the injury. In the case of a car accident, it’s important to make sure that you have pictures of your whole car, not just the damaged areas, along with pictures of any other vehicles involved or anything about the location that may have contributed to the incident. These rules hold for most other types of accidents as well.
In addition, you should make an effort to document everything. If you are hurt in a fall, go straight to the ER (the medical records will come in handy). Ask the store manager to take or file a written report. Collect the names of witnesses and their contact information. In short, get everything, either in hand, in a photo, or on paper.
It’s critically important that whatever you gathered in the previous step, be kept in its original condition. Broken parts should not be left out to become damaged further or rust away. Shoes or clothing involved in an incident should not be washed or worn. And nothing should be repaired until its condition has been properly documented. It’s best to speak with a lawyer before doing anything to alter any physical items involved in an accident. You should get medical attention immediately if you are hurt; the doctors’ reports are good evidence of your condition. You will need everything to be in the same condition it was when the accident happened or as close as possible. There are facilities that will help you store large objects like boats or cars, for a fee. But whatever you do, preservation is the name of the game.
Inspection and Testing
As legal proceedings gear up, all the parties are entitled to inspect the physical evidence. There will be auto body and mechanical inspections of the vehicles, scientific testing of any defective products and a physical examination of you by a doctor chosen by the defendant. This is fine; it’s part of the judicial process. However, there are some caveats.
As for testing, any such work should be agreed upon in advance and video recorded to ensure fair play. Qualified experts should conduct any tests by either side of the dispute that may damage or destroy the evidence and all parties should be afforded a fair opportunity to have their representatives present during the tests. This is important. Just because you have physical evidence in your possession does not mean that you have the right to do with it as you please. Defendants have a right to get access to evidence and to conduct their own tests where feasible. Destroying evidence before they get a chance to exercise that right might ruin your case.
Speak to an attorney
Regardless of what kind of accident you’ve been involved in, it’s important that you speak to an experienced personal injury attorney as soon as possible. In some situations, there may be special rules about how to collect or preserve evidence and failing to follow them can jeopardize your case or create a whole new set of legal problems.
If you have been injured in an accident you should call California personal injury attorney Don Sjaarda at 714 963-8215 for a consultation and to advise you on the preservation of evidence important to your case.