How to Collect Evidence After a Drunk Driving Car Accident
You recently suffered injuries in a car accident caused by a drunk driver. Now you want to sue for damages. You’ve heard you need evidence to prove a case against a drunk driver. But you’re not sure how to collect the evidence you need. How should you do it?
The short answer: you shouldn’t (or at least, you don’t need to). You have enough on your plate to heal from your injuries and manage your life after the trauma of a drunk-driving crash. Leave it to an experienced car accident injury lawyer to collect the necessary evidence to prove your claim and get the money you need to pay your bills and move forward with your life.
Collecting Evidence Is Important but Not Your Job
Let’s start with the basics. You’re right that it takes evidence to prove a case for damages after getting hurt in a drunk-driving car accident. As the injured victim of a drunk driver, you generally have the right to claim damages from the drunk driver or anyone else who was at fault. Obtaining those damages requires proving that the at-fault party caused the crash and that you suffered injuries.
But there’s no good reason for you to shoulder the burden of collecting that evidence on your own. In many cases, it’s a bad idea for you to try because getting involved in evidence collection can interfere with the admissibility of evidence in court and even land you in legal hot water. Of course, if you happen to possess evidence already, it’s a good idea to hold on to it until you can hand it over to your lawyer. But as a drunk driving car accident victim, collecting evidence is not your job.
What constitutes evidence for your drunk driving car accident injury case?
These days, the word evidence tends to make us think of TV shows where forensic experts lift DNA from a toothbrush or analyze voice prints using high-tech gadgets. But for car accident injury lawyers, evidence has a much more down-to-earth meaning. Simply put, evidence is any item of information that tends to prove a fact.
The evidence necessary to prove a drunk driving accident injury case—a case pursued by the victim of a drunk driver seeking monetary damages—can consist of information derived from numerous potential sources.
It might include, for example:
- Your recollections of the accident
- The recollections of the drunk driver
- The recollections of eyewitnesses
- The recollections of first responders (police and EMTs)
- The damaged vehicles involved in the car accident
- Still and video images of the accident scene
- Security or traffic camera footage of the accident
- Data from phones, GPS units, vehicle onboard computers, and other devices
- Police accident reports
- Results of the drunk driver’s police-administered breathalyzer test
- Results of the drunk driver’s hospital-administered blood test
- Your medical records
- Bills, invoices, and other documents reflecting your accident or injury-related expenses
- Records relating to your occupation and past earnings
- Expert opinions about any of the evidence above
Lawyers who represent injured accident victims aim to use evidence to prove two essential facts: that the party being sued for damages contributed to the cause of the accident through wrongful decisions or actions and that the victim sustained injuries and other damages for which the at-fault party should pay compensation.
Who collects evidence in a drunk driving car accident injury case?
Evidence collection is the process of obtaining and preserving the items of evidence needed to prove a drunk driving car accident injury case. Numerous people may have a role in evidence collection. And it’s often the case that the person who collects evidence from its source is not the same person who obtains it for your lawyer’s use.
In the typical drunk driving car accident injury case, any of the following parties may initially collect evidence that ends up being useful in proving a claim for damages:
- Accident scene first responders (police and EMTs)
- Accident witnesses
- Medical providers who treat the victim
- Investigators working for the government, insurance companies, or private parties
- Lawyers and their staff
With the exception of the efforts of lawyers and staff who work for victims, these people’s purpose in initially collecting evidence often has little to do with building a case against an at-fault party. They gather the information that turns out to be useful evidence in a damages case for various unrelated reasons, such as investigating crimes, providing medical care, or monitoring traffic flows. It’s frequently only after the fact that a victim’s lawyer recognizes the importance of that evidence and takes steps to obtain it.
Let’s pause here to acknowledge that an accident victim like you can sometimes collect evidence that proves useful in suing for damages. You might, for example, take pictures or videos at the accident scene that capture valuable data about how the accident happened and who is to blame. And it’s always a good idea to hold on to documents and physical items relevant to the accident until your lawyer has had a chance to inspect them.
But as an accident victim, your priority should be staying safe and seeking medical care. If you can snap some pictures or videos safely, then, by all means, do it. But don’t stress if you can’t or didn’t, and never, ever put yourself in danger or interfere with first responders to gather evidence (which could do you far more harm than good).
Instead, gathering relevant evidence helpful to your case from various locations and sources should fall entirely, or nearly entirely, on the shoulders of the car accident injury lawyer you hire to handle your case. The sooner you have that lawyer in your corner, the better your odds of securing critical evidence and obtaining the compensation you need to cover your expenses and losses.
How Lawyers and Their Staff Collect Evidence
Attorneys for car accident victims have various tools and strategies they can deploy to identify helpful evidence and lay their hands on it quickly.
Some evidence reaches lawyers relatively easily. For example, as your representative, they can request the car accident report from the police who responded to the crash scene. And once you give your consent, they can obtain the medical records that document your injuries and treatment plan. Your lawyer can give you a list of potentially relevant evidence you may already have. You can also gather on your own, such as bills, invoices, and correspondence from insurance companies.
Some evidence, however, takes extra effort or legal savvy to obtain. Skilled lawyers and their staff may do their own shoe-leather investigating, which might include, for example, visiting the accident scene in person or tracking down eyewitnesses who have relevant recollections to share. They may also use legal procedures to obtain critical evidence.
By launching a lawsuit against an at-fault party, for instance, a lawyer can secure evidence through a process called discovery that compels the at-fault party and third parties to disclose records and information or to give interviews under oath (called depositions). A lawyer can also sometimes interact with law enforcement and government accident investigators to obtain additional findings they may not have shared in a police report.
The Potential Risks of Collecting Evidence on Your Own
Everyone wants to be helpful, and that’s a good thing. But as the victim of a drunk driving car accident, it’s also important to understand the practical and legal limits on what you can accomplish. Ask any experienced car accident lawyer, and they’ll tell you (as we’ve said above) that the single most important thing you can do to help your case is to take care of yourself medically and emotionally. Self-care, not evidence collection, is your primary job.
As we’ve also said, you may have a small role to play in evidence collection if you happen to capture some pictures at the accident scene and when your lawyer gives you a list of items in your possession to gather. But going further than that and trying to investigate and gather evidence on your own carries significant potential risks.
Evidence is only truly useful for your lawyer if it’s admissible in a court of law, meaning that it originates from a source, and is collected in a manner that the law deems authentic, reliable, and accurate. When collecting information, your lawyer must follow specific rules of evidence governing the court that has jurisdiction over your case. Collecting information from sources the law treats as unreliable, or preserving it in a manner that calls its authenticity or accuracy into question, renders evidence inadmissible under those rules—which means your lawyer can’t use it to support your case.
It’s all too easy for accident victims to run afoul of the rules of evidence, which are notoriously complicated. Worse, by inserting themselves into the process of collecting evidence, crash victims can spoil otherwise valid, admissible evidence. The most powerful evidence in your case will likely come from sources that do not have your proverbial (or literal) fingerprints all over them.
There can also be legal risks in trying to collect evidence on your own as a drunk driving car accident victim. Your efforts could, for example, inadvertently conflict or interfere with the efforts of law enforcement to build a criminal case against a drunk driver, which could land you in hot water with the very authorities whose efforts could also help in building your case for damages.
Inserting yourself into evidence collection could also give insurance companies (yours and the at-fault party’s) a reason to dispute their obligation to pay a claim.
So, although you have good reasons to want to help collect evidence, for the most part, it’s a job best left to a skilled attorney to handle on your behalf.
There Is No Cost Savings in Doing Your Own Evidence Collection
Here’s one final point on the topic of why you should leave evidence collection to your car accident injury lawyer. Some accident victims figure they can save money by gathering evidence to support their case. But that’s rarely correct.
Car accident injury lawyers almost always work for their clients on a contingent fee basis. That means they do not charge retainers or hourly rates for their services. Instead, they receive a percentage of any money they recover on a client’s behalf as their fee.
In other words, it’s unlikely you’ll save any money by trying to handle tasks on your own that your lawyer will otherwise do (and, for that matter, do better). By and large, your lawyer will receive the same fee regardless of your contribution to evidence-collection efforts. If anything, your involvement in aspects of post-accident evidence collection could harm the value of your case for the reasons we’ve explained above.
What You Can Do Instead
Even without participating in evidence collection, you still have plenty of ways to help add value and strength to your car accident injury case.
You can, for example:
- Seek medical care and follow your treatment plan. We’ve said it before and will say it again; this is the most important job you have as the injured victim of a drunk driver.
- Don’t throw anything away yet. Keep any documents or physical items you have relating to your accident so that your attorney can review them.
- Refer insurance adjusters to your attorney. Don’t fall for their aggressive efforts to isolate you from legal advice—that’s just a tactic to get you to accept a payment that’s far less than the amount you deserve.
- Stay off social media and watch what you say. Any public comment you make about your accident or injuries could come back to haunt you, even if you said it with the best or most innocent intentions.
These are just a few generic ideas, of course. Your lawyer may have specific suggestions for how you can help maximize the value of your case.
Contact an Experienced Drunk Driving Car Accident Injury Lawyer Today
You have good reasons to want to help collect evidence after getting hurt in a drunk-driving car accident. But, for the most part, that’s a job best left to a skilled lawyer who represents your interests and fights to get you paid for your losses. Focus your efforts on healing from your injuries, and contact an experienced personal injury attorney as soon as possible for a free consultation.
Jim Holliday has recovered millions of dollars for his clients in restitution for their injuries.