Across the United States, automobile accidents occur with such regularity that it can sometimes seem like road and highway crashes are the nation’s real national pastime. With billions of miles traveled by drivers each and every year, even the best safety measures are unable to prevent all crashes. For the drivers involved, these accidents cause a wide variety of negative effects, ranging from property damage and repair costs to injury or even death. Because the odds suggest that most drivers will eventually experience a major auto accident, it is imperative that every driver know how to respond when disaster strikes. That response includes understanding the importance of preserving evidence after a major car accident.
A Serious Problem
On every level, accidents take a toll on the nation’s drivers. According to AAA, drivers spend more than $700 a month on costs related to vehicle ownership – including things like auto maintenance, fuel, insurance, and other necessities. Most cannot afford the added costs associated with being in an automobile accident. Sadly, however, crashes create an incredible financial burden on drivers and the nation. In the year 2000, the economic toll associated with automobile crashes amounted to a staggering $230 billion. Accidents on the nation’s roads have had a similar financial impact every year since.
Just consider the following facts:
- There were 1 million crashes reported to the police in 2014 alone – and since not all accidents result in police contact, there is a strong likelihood that the actual number of incidents was much higher than that. Of those crashes, 72% resulted in nothing more severe than property damage.
- Even with only 28% of crashes resulting in injury or death, more than 2.3 million people suffered some degree of injury in those accidents. Worse, the NHTSA reports that more than 32,000 people lost their lives in those crashes.
Texas is one area of the country hit particularly hard by this phenomenon. In 2014, the total amount of travel on Texas roads and highways exceeded 248 billion miles. More than 237,000 people were injured in accidents in the state, in a year that saw an average of almost one crash reported every minute.
Why Evidence Preservation is Essential
For a variety of reasons, you always need to do everything in your power to preserve evidence when you are involved in any major automobile accident. It is advisable to capture evidence even in the aftermath of minor crashes. A major accident makes that preservation even more necessary. Here’s why:
- When any type of injury or damage is involved, your insurance company will also be involved. You need documented evidence to ensure that the company meets its obligation to pay out on your claim – or to enable your insurer to pursue damages from the party responsible for the crash.
- Major crashes can involve injuries of a more severe nature and serious property damage. As a result, they can also result in a greater possibility of litigation. You may need to go to court to press your claim or may find yourself defending against another driver’s claim. In either instance, you will need as much evidence as you can gather.
- Reportable crashes always involve law enforcement. Depending on the cause of the accident, and the outcome, there is even a possibility that criminal charges could result. Proper preservation of evidence could be your best defense.
What Types of Evidence Should You Preserve, and How?
First of all, it is important to remember that an early effort to gather and preserve evidence is critical. Do not wait for several days to search for critical evidence or try to locate witnesses. Instead, try to accomplish as many of the following evidence-preservation steps as you can, and as quickly as possible:
- Get photographic evidence of the accident site. Be sure to do your best to capture the conditions as they appeared at the time of the accident. If there is a broken traffic light, get video of it. If the road is damaged and that contributed to the accident, take pictures of it. Focus on documenting everything and as many angles as possible to present the most complete picture possible – including traffic volume, or other crashes in the immediate area.
- Gather contact information from any witnesses who are present. Exchange contact information with them whenever possible, and ask them if they will document what they saw.
- Capture physical evidence. Blown tire treads, downed branches, and all other factors that may be critical later on in the process. If another driver was at fault, be sure to make that clear to the officer who shows up to the scene.
- If injuries are involved, consult with a doctor immediately. Make sure that everything is properly documented for future reference. If your insurer is required to pay out on a claim, you will need that medical evidence to prove your injuries.
- Understand that the officers who respond to the crash have protocols in place for investigating the incident. Familiarize yourself with their protocols so that you know what to expect when being questioned by law enforcement about any automobile accident.
In Texas, as in many other jurisdictions across the country, officers are trained to take testimony, photograph the scene, and even draw sketches to capture what they see and potentially explain what happened. Be aware of this, and avoid doing anything that might interfere with the official investigation. Recognize that sometimes the confusion and chaos of the accident might mean that you cannot gather all the evidence you need right away. If that is the case, return the next day or send someone else if you’re unable to.
The bottom line is simple and easily understood. Major accidents almost always lead to the involvement of law enforcement, attorneys, and insurers. Regardless of how the aftermath of your accident proceeds, you will need every shred of evidence you can gather to ensure that you are treated fairly and provided with the compensation you are due.