February 25, 2020
Juries decide whether to award compensation for car accidents by evaluating the evidence. When two drivers and other witnesses give differing accounts of how an accident occurred, juries study the physical evidence to help them decide which driver was more at fault for the collision.
Preserving physical evidence is important for two reasons. First, physical evidence can help injury victims prove that the driver they sued is responsible for their injuries. Second, a failure to preserve physical evidence may convince a jury that the injury victim has something to hide.
Using Physical Evidence to Prove Liability After a Car Accident
Physical evidence helps car accident lawyers reconstruct collisions. Gouges in the road can pinpoint where the accident occurred. That evidence is important when drivers disagree about which car crossed a centerline.
Skid marks shed light on whether a driver was braking before the collision occurred. The absence of skid marks may prove that a driver wasn’t paying attention to the road.
The location of crash damage on the colliding vehicles can prove which vehicle struck the other. The position of vehicles after the crash will help an accident reconstruction engineer determine how fast the vehicles were travelling when the collision occurred.
Nearly all cars manufactured after 2013, as well as many earlier models, have an event data recorder (“EDR”). Sometimes called a “black box,” an EDR maintains a record of critical data just before and after a crash, including vehicle speed, direction of steering, and brake application. Many disputes about liability can be resolved by analyzing EDR data from one or both of the vehicles involved in the crash.
The Importance of Preserving Physical Evidence After a Car Accident
Gathering and preserving physical evidence can be the key to winning a lawsuit. At the same time, an accident victim’s failure to preserve evidence can be viewed as proof that the victim was at fault. For example, if a car owner destroys the vehicle’s black box shortly after the accident occurs, a jury might view that act as proof that the owner had something to hide.
The law requires parties to a lawsuit to preserve evidence that might be important. It does not matter whether the evidence would help or harm the party, because whether the evidence is helpful or harmful cannot be known if the evidence has been lost or destroyed.
Violating the duty to preserve evidence is known as spoliation. When spoliation occurs, a judge can instruct the jury that it can presume the party destroyed the evidence because the party knew it would be harmful to the party’s case. In extreme cases, a judge might even dismiss a lawsuit because spoliation makes it impossible for the other party to have a fair trial.
How to Preserve Evidence After a Car Accident
Since spoliation of evidence can harm the party that has a duty to preserve it, every accident victim should take steps to preserve physical evidence that is within its control. While that duty does not apply to evidence over which the victim has no control, such as gouges and skid marks on a road surface, the accident victim will benefit from making a record of that evidence for later use in court.
Car owners should not junk a car that was involved in a lawsuit, should not have it repaired, and should not remove or tamper with a black box until receiving legal advice. The accident victim’s lawyer will probably want to photograph damage to the car. Whether the photographs are sufficient, or whether the car needs to be maintained in its post-accident condition, is a judgment call that a car accident attorney will need to make.
It is best to take photographs of both cars and the accident scene (including the road) before the vehicles are moved. The accident victim’s lawyer might also want an investigator to take professional photographs and to make measurements before evidence disappears. Contact a personal injury law firm immediately after an accident is the best way to assure that evidence is preserved.