Following a California personal injury accident, the one question that the victim and his or her attorney will be consumed with is this: “Who is at fault for causing the accident?” In fact, this is the central question in a personal injury lawsuit. If some other individual or entity is even partially responsible for the injuries sustained by the victim, then the victim may be entitled to compensation through a personal injury lawsuit. If the victim is completely responsible for his or her injuries, then no compensation is possible.
Tools to Determine Fault
There are a variety of ways in which fault can be determined and proven in a personal injury lawsuit. Not all methods are available in every case, however: A resourceful and skilled personal injury lawyer will need to investigate a victim’s case thoroughly to make sure all available “tools” are located and utilized to prove the victim’s case:
- Eyewitnesses (including the victim): Eyewitness testimony can be very powerful in a personal injury lawsuit. Eyewitnesses (including the victim) are those individuals who saw the accident firsthand and can recall their observations. The best eyewitnesses are those who are disinterested (i.e., they do not favor either party to the lawsuit) and who had a fair opportunity to view the accident as it unfolded. An eyewitness with a strong bias toward one party or the other or whose view of the event was obstructed is not as useful in a personal injury lawsuit.
- Other witnesses: Other individuals who heard about the incident or talked to the victim and others involved in the incident can play a crucial role in corroborating or contradicting the testimony of eyewitnesses. If a witness overheard the alleged responsible party admit fault for causing the accident, the witness can be crucial to the injured victim’s case.
- Photographs and diagrams: Sometimes the mechanism by which an injury accident occurred speaks for itself. If this is captured in photographs or video recordings, those photographs and videos can often speak louder than any witness. Consider a construction site injury lawsuit where the victim introduces a picture of the tool that hit him on the head and the shaky scaffolding from which it fell.
- Expert witnesses: If a personal injury case has no other eyewitnesses other than the victim and the one alleged to have injured the victim, the victim and/or his or her attorney may wish to consult with and call upon the expertise of one or more expert witnesses. Expert witnesses should be used with care: if they can explain a complex matter or make sense out of details that appear meaningless or random, an expert witness can be particularly powerful and useful. Conversely, an expert witness who testifies on a tangential matter or who is not used to testifying in court and uses language the court and/or jury does not understand can end up confusing more than he or she is able to clarify.
Expert witnesses are also only as useful as the data with which they are presented. An expert in occupational safety, for example, who is shown a picture of the shaky scaffolding can probably render a reliable and confident opinion as to whether that scaffolding met occupational safety codes. Contrast this powerful testimony with the testimony of an expert who is not shown the scaffolding in question but is merely asked to describe how a “safe” scaffolding would look.
The victim and his or her personal injury attorney will often begin identifying what tools are available to them to prove the victim’s case very early on in the process so that evidence and witnesses can be located and secured for court.