The use of smartphones while driving is, as you might suspect, a bad thing, but they can actually come in handy after an auto accident. If you’re well enough after your fender bender to walk around, there are dos and don’ts of gathering auto accident evidence with a smartphone.
Do take pictures
Photographic evidence is critical. Document the scene by taking photos of as much as possible, including:
- Long shots and close-ups of damage to all vehicles involved in the accident, especially your own.
- The surrounding area, especially brake marks (or lack thereof), related debris and where it is in relation to all involved vehicles, and the location where your car ended up after the accident.
- The interior of your car, especially if the air bags deployed or there was broken glass or any other damage.
- The license plates and/or VIN identification of all cars involved.
- The insurance information of the other person(s) involved in the accident.
- Weather conditions (so someone can’t claim the sun was in their eyes if it was a cloudy day).
Before you start snapping away, confirm that location services is activated on your smartphone. “Any photos you take will be stamped with geolocation data and will be easier to authenticate,” says Jeff Kerr, litigator and CEO/founder of CaseFleet case management software.
Don’t say much
“Don’t talk during recordings other than to ask questions,” says Kerr. “Almost every recording a client ever gave me was ruined because the client could not resist the urge to narrate everything. This is almost always a bad idea.”
And, most personal injury attorneys would advise their clients to avoid speaking—especially on smartphone video—to anyone at the scene of the accident other than the police and their lawyer. “Don’t speak to the other driver about the circumstances surrounding the accident. There are plenty of people out there that are not the most scrupulous or honest and they’ll say, ‘You said that it was your fault. You told me you were sorry,’” says Marc Lamber, attorney with Lamber Goodnow. “Don’t speak with the other driver beyond exchanging information about name, address, insurance information.”
Do take notes
“It is helpful to write down your version of how the accident happened as soon as possible after an accident to preserve your personal recollection of the details,” advises David C. Femminineo, a personal injury lawyer with Femminineo Attorneys in Mt. Clemens, Michigan. Record yourself describing the event, type up notes about the accident, or email a version of the event to yourself so it is marked with a time stamp.
And don’t forget to document any bodily damage you may have incurred. “If you’re injured and the injury is visible, take photographs of yourself,” says Lamber. Or have someone take photos of your injuries or videotape you from head to toe. “As the injury heals or changes, it’s a good idea to continue to photograph it,” Lamber notes. A smartphone makes this after-the-fact documentation simple.
It is also a good idea to type out the contact information of the other people who were involved in the accident. You aren’t likely to remember everything they tell you, and handwriting can be difficult to read, especially when people are shaky after a crash.
Don’t be antagonistic
You may know without a doubt that the other driver was in the wrong, but attempting to get them to admit that on camera at the scene of the crash isn’t advisable. “You should never directly film the person who you were involved in the incident with, unless they are trying to escape without acknowledging the accident,” says Sam Williamson, an accident compensation attorney in Scotland. “Pointing your smartphone in someone’s face could provoke aggression, which could complicate your claim and affect your chances of winning your claim.”
Do seek out witnesses
As you gather evidence, be sure to look for eyewitnesses who can offer their account of the auto accident. Ask the witnesses if they are agreeable to being recorded (they might prefer audio only to a video recording, so be sure to comply with their preference). Make sure they say their names and provide their contact information while you are recording, in case they need to be called upon in the future. “It is important to secure the identity of witnesses or people involved in the accident so the info is available for your attorney,” says Femminineo.
Do remember the goal
Documenting the scene of an auto accident is important so that you have photographic and video evidence, which can be helpful when it comes to accident reconstruction, insurance purposes, and potential auto accident lawsuits. While gathering evidence, be as thorough as possible, but also be discreet and polite, so that no one can question your intentions, and no one blames you for impeding a police investigation or acting inappropriately after an accident.
One last thing: you might consider engaging the services of an attorney soon after the accident. An attorney can take care of things so you don’t have to, like dealing with the insurance company on your behalf and being present when you give a statement about the accident. Depending on the severity of the accident and your particular situation, getting representation sooner rather than later could be critical.