Preserving the Evidence (A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words)
We have all heard the old saying ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’. But what does it really mean and how is it relevant to the practice of personal injury law.
In personal injury cases, the majority of incidents are unwitnessed and there is no video of the occurrence. As a result, attorneys representing people injured due to the negligence of others find themselves trying to explain to the insurance company or jury exactly what caused the injury to occur. The unfortunate reality is that, despite our best efforts, no written or verbal explanation of the facts can ever be as clear an explanation as a single picture or video showing the condition or defect that resulted in an injury to our client. A picture is truly worth a thousand words.
Were you involved in a car accident’ Did you slip and fall on ice in a parking lot or on some other substance at a store’ Did you trip over a defect on a floor, walkway or sidewalk? Were you using a product that caused an injury? If so, the simple act of taking a few photos of the condition that caused your accident, the defective product or the position of the vehicles after they have come to rest can potentially make your claim much easier to prove. For those of us who have been representing people in personal injury claims for many years have come to understand the value of a photograph or video and how it can help us to prove that someone or some entity was negligent.
When I first started practicing law, I would often tell people to keep a disposable camera in their car just in case they might need to take some pictures following an accident. Today, almost everyone carries a cell phone with a built-in camera. Despite that fact, many people still forget to take pictures after they have been injured.’? Of course, there are many situations where you may be too hurt to take pictures and there may be no one in the vicinity to take the pictures for you.
However, in all other situations, you should always remember to try to get a number of pictures of not only the condition that caused the accident but also of the people involved, the intersection where the car accident occurred and the vehicles involved in a collision. Not only should you take pictures of the damage to the cars but you should also take pictures of where the vehicles come to rest following the collision. Such pictures may become the crucial evidence needed to win your case, especially if the collision occurred at an intersection where the two vehicles entered the intersection from different locations.
In addition, more and more, we are seeing stores and other business establishments utilize video surveillance for security purposes. If your accident occurred near a building, especially if that building is a bank, liquor store or gas station, as soon as possible following the incident, you should go to the establishment and see if they were able to capture the occurrence on video and ask them to preserve this evidence. A picture may be worth a thousand words but a video is worth a hundred thousand words. When I am hired to represent a person injured in an accident, one of the very first things I do for my clients is to send out what is referred to as a spoliation letter. This is a letter sent to an establishment ordering them to preserve any and all evidence of a particular event. Failure of that entity to preserve this evidence when they were the party responsible for causing or failing to repair a defect may serve to give you certain advantages later on in the legal proceedings.
On a similar note, we have all heard the other old saying that there are two sides to every story. Well, that is particularly true in personal injury cases. In nearly every case, even those where it seems there can be no dispute as to the facts, there are often two versions of the same story. Whether one person is lying or they simply perceive the facts differently is irrelevant. The best way to support your claim that the other party was negligent is by locating witnesses to the incident. Again, it is sometimes difficult to obtain this information if you are seriously hurt but, whenever possible, you should try to obtain the names, telephone numbers, and addresses of anyone in the vicinity of your accident. Locating witnesses to an incident is often the difference between a reasonable offer of settlement and an insultingly low one; a plaintiff’s verdict at trial or a defense verdict.
Preservation of evidence and locating witnesses remain some of the most important and most overlooked actions a victim of negligence can do to help them obtain a fair outcome in their personal injury claim or lawsuit.