Should I Take Pictures At The Accident Scene?
All lawyers have a dream. They work hard to graduate from law school and work even harder to pass the Bar Examination because they believe one day they will see their dream come true. It’s the cross-examination moment that makes their career. It goes a little something like this.
“Mr. Witness, you testified a moment ago you violated no traffic laws in the events leading to the accident on July 6th. I’d like to direct your attention to this footage captured by a surveillance camera at the scene which clearly shows your vehicle making an illegal U-turn just before the collision.”
“Can you explain that, sir?”
As the twelve heads in the jury box turn to the stand, our lawyer raises an eyebrow at the witness, confident of victory.
No Better Evidence
All things being equal, there are few categories of evidence more compelling to a jury or even a judge than photographs or video. At the same time, there is no evidence more devastating to opposing counsel than photographs or video. While the veracity of a particular set of exhibits can sometimes be challenged, once a plaintiff or defendant has photos or video that contradicts testimony or misinterpreted physical evidence, that’s the game.
This, among other things, is one reason mobile phones are fantastically useful in an emergency. Car accident litigation is notoriously replete with less-than-accurate accounts of the events before, during and after a collision. Mobile phones help get the facts on the record quickly and relatively permanently.
The Rest of the Story
A prepared photographer will approach an accident scene like a documentary director. Since mobile phones are able to capture an immense volume of photographic information compared to their film equivalents, there is no reason even the most seemingly obscure details can’t be preserved.
Things like road conditions, nearby obstacles, weather, lighting and the location of nearby surveillance cameras should be near the top of the list for photos at an accident scene. The reason is these details will sometimes provide a crucial detail even the police might miss. Those kinds of details can often change the interpretation of how an accident unfolded and could be the reason one or more involved persons are exculpated.
One thing that shouldn’t be overlooked at an accident scene is the utility of a digital camera in recording the presence or absence of relevant paperwork. Driver’s licenses, insurance cards, license plates, VIN numbers and any other identifying information should be collected from both involved drivers and bystanders if possible.
The rule is anything with numbers or letters on it is going to be important later, so make sure you have a record of it now.
Preservation of Testimony
Both police officers and attorneys will tell you eyewitness testimony isn’t perfectly reliable, even in a situation where statements are taken immediately after an incident. Photographs, on the other hand, are virtually eternal, at least as far as litigation is concerned.
Even if you have solid witnesses and accounts from bystanders, having photographs to back up what you were told is good practice. They are also relatively easy to acquire when the alternatives are considered. Some might credibly argue buying a dedicated “emergency” mobile phone and keeping it charged just for this purpose wouldn’t be a frivolous purchase.
When you consult a qualified attorney, the more evidence you can provide them, the easier their job is going to be. Even if liability is something you can’t avoid, having an accurate account of the incident will go a long way towards making sure “fault” doesn’t turn into “uncontrollable disaster.”
As always, you will want to seek out qualified counsel as quickly as you possibly can, even before you speak to your insurance company. Letting your lawyer do the talking, preferably in front of a nine-foot-tall exculpatory photograph, is almost always the best course of action.