Collecting and Recording Evidence

COLLECTING AND RECORDING EVIDENCE

When deciding on damages or compensation after a road accident, a court or an insurer has to piece together from the evidence a picture of what happened. Witnesses may give conflicting accounts of the accident; there may be facts to be gleaned from skid marks, vehicle damage, glass on the road or similar evidence; and there will probably be a report by the police.

The most important witnesses to a road accident are often the drivers involved. If you have been involved in an accident try to record immediately after the event the salient points on which your claim for compensation or your defence may depend. It makes good sense to carry an insurance claim form with you; this will allow you to complete it on the spot, and record details while there is an opportu-nity to check their accuracy. Information which is additional to the standard requirements - such as statements by the other driver - can be noted separately.

NAMES AND ADDRESSES Note carefully the names and addresses of other people involved in the accident. All drivers concerned must provide this information. Check the registration number given with the number on the registration plates and licence disc.

Write down the registration numbers of cars at the scene of the accident if it seems that their occupants might be useful witnesses. Even if they leave before you have taken their names, or they refuse to give their names, they can be traced through the licensing authorities that issued the registration numbers of their vehicle.

Witnesses may be reluctant to give their names or addresses. However, a police or traffic officer may demand names and addresses of any person who may be able to supply evidence of an offence. Failure to comply with this demand can lead to arrest. A bystander may admit witnessing the accident, yet refuse to co-operate because of the inconvenience of being called to court as a witness. Try to identify the person in some way; a reluctant witness can be served with a subpoena and will then be obliged to give evidence or risk prosecution for contempt of court.

Do not spend time taking detailed statements at this stage. Instead, compile a list of all potential witnesses and decide who are most likely to be useful afterwards. Pedestrians who had a clear view of the road at the time and 'professionals' - bus, taxi or lorry drivers who drive for a living - may be particularly useful.

TRAFFIC Note the flow of the traffic at the time of the accident - whether the road was busy, and whether vehicles were moving fast or slowly.

WEATHER CONDITIONS Record the time of day and whether visibility was good or bad. If the accident occurred at night, note the proximity of street lights and other illumination. Note whether the road was wet or dry and whether it was raining at the time.

VEHICLES Note carefully damage which seems to have been caused by the accident. This may indicate the cause of the accident and can be useful when the cost of repairs is calculated later. Some motorists fraudulently claim that 'old' damage was in fact caused by the accident, in order to have it repaired at another's expense. Record damage which obviously existed before the accident, such as a missing bumper or a rusted dent on a part of the bodywork not affected by the collision.

PHOTOGRAPHS These should be taken as soon as possible after the accident, showing the position in which the vehicles came to rest. Take individual photographs of any features, such as concealed entrances or obscured road signs, which may be relevant, and carefully record the exact position from which each photograph is taken. The person who took the photographs may have to appear in court to give evidence of having taken them. Before engaging a professional photographer, therefore, make sure that he or she is prepared to appear willingly in court. However, it is by no means essential that a professional photographer take the photographs; you yourself, if you are in a fit state, may do so.

Draw a sketch plan of the accident scene and, if possible, use squared paper to make the plan to scale.

LAYOUT OF THE ROAD Name the roads and their widths, taking care to note whether they are freeways or dual carriageways. Show the positions and types of traffic signs, signals or markings and indicate pedestrian crossings and bus stops. Note any special hazards, such as a gradient which might obscure a motor vehicle coming out of a dip until the last moment. Record the condition of the road surface - whether tarred, gravel, wet or greasy. Remember, also, to plot any feature which might have contributed towards the accident - for

example, a wall or bush which obscured the view of approaching traffic.

DIRECTION OF TRAVEL Show the direction of travel of vehicles involved in the accident immediately before impact. Show the direction in which the front wheels are pointing.

POINT OF IMPACT Look for and mark signs which show where the vehicles collided - a deposit of mud shaken from the inside of mudguards, perhaps, or broken glass.

SKID MARKS Measure the length of skid marks and plot their position on the map. Skid marks may indicate a number of things - the speed of the vehicle, its direction and, often, the point at which it collided. The accuracy of the tape measure used will have to be proved in court before measurements can be accepted as evidence.

RESTING POINT Where the positions of the vehicles after impact tell a great deal about their movements immediately before and after the collision, try to relate these positions to fixed physical features at the accident scene. For instance, note that 'the left front wheel was resting against the fifth kerbstone from the corner' or 'the lorry was facing directly towards the postbox'.

POINTS OF THE COMPASS It is customary to 'orient' a map by showing the position of north - usually by drawing an arrow with the letter N against it. Evidence by police officers will usually refer to compass points and it will help the court to have the motorist's map drawn up in the same way.

Be accurate and quick when collecting information for the sketch plan. People may move away, cars will be removed, marks on the road will fade or be erased by weather or traffic. Evidence vital to the outcome of criminal or civil proceedings must be collected before it disappears

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