A personal injury claim may seem like a winner to you given the damage you’ve suffered. Unfortunately, the environment in which you were injured isn’t going to stay the same until your trial. You’ve got to ensure that the evidence that supports your case is still around to help you once you go to trial. Otherwise, you could find yourself cut off from the compensation you were seeking.
Why Preservation Matters
Evidence is what will help you win your case – if you have it at the time of the trial. If you don’t have it, then you really have nothing to support your claims.
The Time-Sensitive Nature of Evidence
You have to preserve two main categories of evidence. One of these is evidence that can disappear, such as superficial injuries that heal quickly or damage that can be fixed before you go to trial. Witness memories may fade or become jumbled up, and some evidence can degrade as time goes by. The other is evidence that won’t disappear on its own or over time but that can be lost or destroyed, such as a note or record. In either case, you’ll need to preserve the evidence as quickly as possible.
The Impact on Case Strength
Whether each piece of evidence is the one that will make or break a case is different for each lawsuit. You could have several pieces of evidence that all back each other up, and losing one might not affect your case that much. Or, you could have one piece that’s the main driver for your case. If you lose that, your case wouldn’t be very strong at all.
Don’t rely on the other party to preserve evidence, by the way. An article in Plaintiff magazine recounted a case in which one party turned over evidence to the other party, who stored the evidence in a storage facility and then didn’t pay the bill. The facility destroyed the evidence, and the first party was left without a copy.
Types of Evidence to Preserve
The type of evidence will determine the steps you need to take to preserve it.
Physical evidence can be anything from a defective product that caused an injury to ripped shoes that show where your foot hit that tree root protruding from the sidewalk. Don’t throw these out, don’t repair them, and in the case of clothing, don’t wear the piece again. Place items in bags in a safe place. Anything that you can’t physically hold onto needs to be photographed. For example, a tree root that you tripped on isn’t something you can lock away in a cabinet, but you can keep photos of it and the surrounding sidewalk.
Medical Records and Documentation
Keep copies of all medical records and documents. This includes insurance and hospital bills and notes from your doctor. Do not assume you’ll be able to get copies of these later on. These are critical for establishing just how badly you were hurt and how much time you had to spend on recovery.
While witness testimony isn’t always reliable, you never want to ignore it. Witnesses whose testimony matches your side of the story are still invaluable to your case. Get witness statements on record; written is best. If you have recorded statements, ask your lawyer about whether you need to have them transcribed.
Photographs and Video
Visual evidence is extremely helpful for lawyers, judges, and juries. Your verbal or written descriptions of the scene of the injury may not be clear enough for others to visualize the area or damage accurately. Photos and videos that you take immediately after the accident leave no room for misinterpretation.
How to Preserve Evidence Effectively
Good preservation starts early – as soon as possible after the accident occurs.
Immediate Actions After an Incident
If you’re injured badly enough to need immediate medical treatment (e.g., bleeding), take care of that first.
If you don’t need immediate treatment, secure the scene. Get witness contact information, call the police if needed (such as after a car accident), and start taking photographs or videos.
If you can’t gather evidence until later (because you were in the hospital, for example), go back to the scene and take pictures and videos as soon as you can. Get images from different angles.
Documenting Injuries and Treatment
Get pictures of the initial injury sites, and get copies of doctor’s notes and records as you have more treatments. Save all insurance forms and emails. It really helps to take photos of the injuries as they heal, too. This is visual evidence of how bad things got and how long it took before you could resume normal activities.
If you’re having trouble documenting what happened, you might want to speak with forensic experts who can help you re-create the accident.
You’ll also want to speak with a lawyer as soon as you can, who’ll help you determine what evidence is needed. Visit the Ledger Law Firm at ledgerlaw.com or call (800) 300-0001 for prompt legal assistance. Don’t get lost in a legal maze – ensure you have knowledgeable legal representation before you head to court.