He said, she said. That is the basis of any lawsuit. Each side has a story and typically the stories differ greatly. In the case of a car collision while eyewitness testimony is important and in some cases it can be critical in proving legal liability, there are other types of evidence that can show what really happened. Evidence is defined as any information that is helpful in forming a conclusion. An empty gasoline can near a burned down building supports the conclusion of arson. A broken window supports the conclusion of burglary. In the case of a car accident, there may be testimonial evidence, real evidence, demonstrative evidence, and documentary evidence. When put altogether all such evidence should provide a picture of what likely happened.
Testimonial evidence is simply a witness relaying what he or she saw or giving an interpretation or opinion as to what something means. An eyewitness’ account of the events that lead to a car accident is testimonial evidence. An accident reconstructionist’s testimony as to the meaning of skid marks is also testimonial evidence. Prior to testimonial evidence being admissible the evidence must be shown to be reliable. For example, someone who purports to being an expert must first demonstrate that he or she is indeed an expert on the matter about which he or she will testify. Once a witness is permitted to testify the other side will attempt to minimize the impact of the testimonial evidence by challenging its veracity, consistency, or relevance.
Real evidence is the physical evidence. It is any object that provides information as to what occurred. The car or particular part of a car is real evidence in a car accident case. A gun, knife, or other weapon is real evidence in a murder case. Real evidence can also consist of photos of the scene of the accident. It is always a good idea to immediately take photos of not just the cars involved in the accident, but the surrounding road. For real evidence to be admissible it must be both relevant and competent.
Demonstrative evidence illustrates the testimony provided by a witness. For example, a witness may testify that one car was “halfway” into the intersection when the other car entered the intersection and collided with the first car. Instead of leaving it up the jurors or judge to imagine the scene, the litigant could present a map or diagram of the intersection along with the position of the two vehicles as described by the witness. This would strengthen the impact of the witness’ testimony.
Documentary evidence is any type of writing that supports a litigant’s position. For example, a police report written at the scene immediately following the accident supports each parties’ account of what happened, as well as the police officer’s observations. Inconsistencies between what a witness says at trial compared to what is contained in the police report may negatively impact that witness’ credibility. Documentary evidence may need to be authenticated.
Ultimately the success of a litigant in a car accident case will depend on the totality of all evidence presented. The litigant with the most credible evidence will likely prevail. While technical evidence from experts may objectively provide strong evidence, oftentimes for the trier of fact credibility may boil down to what makes most sense. A sensible story usually wins over a fanciful one.
Some experts say that eyewitness testimony is unreliable. How can an attorney prepare for the possibility that a witness may make an honest mistake and give inaccurate testimony?