In order to hold a property owner liable for an accident on their premises, you must have extensive evidence showing that they were aware of the hazard and should have taken steps to remove it. Unfortunately, in the aftermath of an accident, you may not think to document the scene of the accident as thoroughly as you should — and this mistake could cost you your case.
Knowing the importance of documenting the scene of a premises liability accident can help you avoid common mistakes in your case.
What Happens If You Don’t Document the Accident Scene?
Many people like to think that insurance companies are on their side. Even if you don’t have much evidence of your accident, the insurer should take you at your word, right?
The opposite is true — insurance companies won’t just take your word for it when you explain the accident. They’re in the business of making money, and they’ll do everything they can to avoid giving a payout. Without proper photos and written statements from the accident scene, the insurance company may assume you’re lying about the accident or exaggerating the property owner’s role in it.
Properly documenting the scene of a premises liability accident should leave no doubt in the insurance adjuster’s mind that the property owner was liable. Taking the necessary steps before you leave the accident scene can also save you time and stress as you navigate your insurance claim (or potential lawsuit), as you won’t need to go searching for the evidence you may have lost.
Steps to Take to Document the Accident Scene
You may be in pain after a premises liability accident. You may also feel embarrassed and not want to cause a scene.
Try to push your emotions aside and focus on documenting the accident. A few minutes of embarrassment are worth the potential thousands of dollars in damages you can seek to cover your medical care.
Take these steps to properly document the accident scene after your injury:
Alert the Property Owner
Your first step is to make the property owner aware of the accident. If the accident happened in a business, alert another customer or an employee and ask them to tell the manager on duty. If you’re at a private home, tell the property owner as soon as you can.
Alerting the owner of the accident should be your highest priority. If you fail to do so, you’ll have a hard time making a claim against them.
If your accident happened at a business, the manager or property owner should create an accident report detailing the events that occurred. If they don’t seem inclined to create a report, feel free to ask about it — some business owners simply need a nudge to ensure that they’re handling accidents according to protocol.
Assess Your Injuries
While you’re still at the scene of the accident, make sure all witnesses and store employees or residents know that you may have suffered an injury in the accident. Saying, “My leg really hurts,” or “I can’t stand up,” will go a long way in supporting your request for damages down the line.
Accident victims are often in shock in the minutes after their injuries. Even if you don’t initially feel any pain, avoid making any statements about that fact. Saying, “I’m okay,” or even walking away from the accident, could serve as evidence that you did not actually suffer any injury.
Once you leave the accident scene, you should seek medical attention as soon as possible. Doing so can prevent your injuries from worsening and give you medical records and medical bills to further prove that your injuries are real and occurred due to the accident.
Take as many photos of the accident scene as possible to adequately document the environment and the hazards that led to your injury. If you are severely injured after the accident, don’t risk standing up on your own — wait for an ambulance to arrive. But while you’re waiting, ask a bystander to take photos of the entire scene.
Ensure that these photos include:
- Wide shots of the accident scene that show the entire environment
- Close-ups of the hazard from several angles
- Images of your initial injuries
- Shots of any property damage that occurred
Take more photos than you think you’ll need. Once you leave the scene, you’ll lose your opportunity to capture any more photos accurately depicting the accident.
Record Witness Contact Information
Whether your accident happened at a retail store, another type of commercial property, or your friend’s house, at least one other person probably witnessed the accident. Recording their contact information before you leave the scene can help you preserve their evidence — the story of what they saw of the accident.
Asking for witness contact information may also encourage witnesses to think about what they saw and make sure they remember it.
The Defendant Is Also Responsible for Preserving Evidence
If your premises liability case goes to trial, you may need to wait a year or longer before the trial date. While you’ll need to do everything you can to preserve the evidence you gathered from the scene, some of this responsibility also rests on the property owner.
Spoilation of evidence is the legal term for destroying or altering evidence due to a failure to preserve it. If the property owner does not keep the necessary maintenance records, accident reports, security camera footage, and other pieces of evidence intact, they may interfere with the trial.
Still, you have the burden of proof in your premises liability case. Even if the property owner fails to preserve evidence, you and your premises liability attorney are responsible for proving that they were at fault.
Work with an Experienced Orange County Premises Liability Attorney
Properly documenting the scene of a premises liability accident is an excellent place to start as you support your case and seek compensation. But you’ll need an attorney to walk you through the rest of the process.
For professional legal guidance on premises liability, contact Khalil Law Group today at 714-617-7870.