There are 2 general portions of a car wreck bodily injury claim; the first one is liability and the second one is damages. In the liability portion of the claim, the injured victim must prove that the other driver was at fault. Sadly, more often than not, when it comes to proving liability, you are dealing with a battle of stories – he said v. she said. Fortunately, if you know the right places to look, the injured victim can gather evidence to support their version of liability facts.
1. Police Report
If a police officer investigated the collision and completed a police report, it is usually the easiest piece of evidence to get, after a car wreck. You can call the police department directly, ask for records, and someone in the records department will explain to you how to get a copy of the police report. The police report has a lot of valuable information on it. It will have a description of the wreck, the insurance information for the person that hit the injured victim, witness contact information, and the officer’s opinion, as to who was at fault, among many other things. Sometimes, to save a step, if the investigating agency has a web page, you can check their web page out and it may explain to you, exactly what you need to do to get a police report.
2. Witness Statements
Sometimes, the officer will note what the witness said, on the police report, and will also list their contact information; that is so helpful! Other times, I not really sure why, there is no information listed on the police report, regarding a witness. If this is the case, and you are fairly sure there is a witness, then you will want to do what is called an Open Records Request. In Texas, under the Texas Freedom of Information Act, you are allowed to request a great deal of information, from the investigating agency, including witness statements. Sometimes officers have witnesses complete witness affidavits, where they explain what they saw, regarding the car wreck. Other times, officers have the witnesses describe what they saw, and record the witness, while they are talking on their lapel microphones. When you make your open records request, you will want to make sure you request both written and recorded statements.
3. 911 Call Recordings
911 call recordings are one of the most valuable pieces of evidence, to help prove who is at fault. Since the call is made almost immediately after the wreck, the version of events is typically very accurate. It is also helpful when the caller is not the injured victim or the negligent driver. Unbiased, 3rd party witnesses are given the most weight. You would also request these recordings with an Open Records Request. One important note, depending on who receives 911 calls, be it the police department, the sheriff’s office, etc., you may need to send a separate Open Records Request, to the proper agency, just for the 911 calls, if 911 calls do not go to the agency that investigated the car wreck. I currently have a case, where there was a conflict, regarding the cause of the wreck. After hiring me, I did the Open Records Request, got the 911 calls, sent them to the adjuster, and liability was cleared. As I said before, 911 call recordings are great pieces of evidence to help prove liability.
4. Emergency Vehicle Dash Cam Recordings
It is rare that an officer witnesses a collision, but it does happen. Emergency vehicle dash cam recordings are helpful to show if the negligent driver was “out of sorts”. You might be thinking, “What does that mean, Mary?” If so, great question! If an investigating officer suspects a driver is intoxicated, the officer will have the driver perform field sobriety tests, in front of their squad car, to record the tests. These videos are INVALUABLE because Texas juries do not like drunk drivers. I had a case (I am not making this up), where the negligent driver, after he crashed his SUV into my clients, jumped out of his SUV, with not one, but two broken arms. He was belligerent and yelling at the officers, calling them very inappropriate things, while making very inappropriate motions with both of his broken arms, telling the officers to do very inappropriate things, all on video. Further investigation revealed medication bottles and empty beer cans, in the SUV. As you can imagine, this was all EXTREMELY helpful evidence, for my clients.
5. Investigating Officer Lapel Recordings
As I said above, when the officers talk to the witnesses, they record the conversations on their lapel microphones. These recordings can provide a wealth of information. These recordings are obtained via open record requests, as well. When multiple parties are involved, these recordings help clear up confusion regarding liability, order of impacts, number of impacts, what each witness saw, who was driving what vehicle, the list goes on and on. Like the emergency vehicle dash cam recordings, these recordings can also reveal if a negligent driver is “out of sorts”. I have heard MANY lapel recordings, where you can hear the other driver slur as they speak; they are slow to respond; they have difficulty answering simple questions, like the date, time, how many drinks they had before they got behind the wheel.
6. Interrogation Recordings
Once a suspected drunk driver is transported to jail, they are questioned. Often, these interviews are recorded. As all of the other pieces listed above, these can be obtained via open records request. They provide evidence, like the negligent driver’s state of mind, as the lapel recordings do, but they also allow the viewer to actually see the negligent driver. I have found that the times when the suspected drunk driver is alone, waiting to be interrogated, are the most informative. I have seen suspected drunk drivers literally pass out on video. I have seen them talk to themselves. I have seen them say how upset their parents are going to be that they drove drunk and crashed their car. I have seen them have conversations with people that were not there. I have seen them tell stories to the wall. Again, a wealth of helpful information to prove who was at fault, for the car wreck.
7. Commercial Building Surveillance Cameras
Commercial building surveillance recordings are RIDICULOUSLY hard to get. I talked to gas station owner that said their recordings roll over every 4 days; that means that you have to not only request, but obtain the recording, before 4 days pass. It is rare that business owners will just turn over these recordings. Your best chance to get the recording is for the police to subpoena it and then you get it from the police, under an open records request. This is also a rare occurrence, but if you know your wreck happened in front of a commercial building, that recorded the wreck, you will want to talk to the investigating officer, their supervisor, the chief of police, whoever you need to talk to, to make sure the video is subpoenaed and protected.
Over the last 20 years of working with accident victims, I have learned a great deal about what kind of information that is out there to help the victim. I hope you found this as helpful and interesting as I did.
As always, stay safe!