The question of whether you will have to take the stand as a witness in a car accident case depends on whether your car accident case makes it to trial. In the vast majority of cases, car accidents are handled outside the courtroom through settlements between the parties and their insurance companies, making trials for car accidents exceedingly rare. Why is this the case? First, auto insurers are professionals who know through experience how much injuries cost to treat and can usually determine a reasonable payout amount for an injury. This reduces the need for the parties to argue over the value of the injuries at issue. Second, litigation is expensive, and the cost of going to trial often outweighs the cost of the injuries sustained by the policyholder in the accident. Thus, most auto insurers are very eager to settle disputes outside of court. However, in a few rare cases, the disagreements between the parties are so complex that no amicable resolution can be reached through settlement offers. In those cases, the parties usually have no choice but to go to trial and let a jury decide the issues.
Witness Testimony Is a Type of Evidence
When a case goes to trial, both parties (the plaintiff and the defendant), will produce evidence to the jury and judge to back up the claims they are making. "Evidence" is anything that is presented to the court that is intended to convince the judge and jury of facts each side is alleging. There are several types of evidence a party can introduce at trial, including:
Physical evidence: Physical evidence is any evidence that is given in the form of a physical object.
Demonstrative evidence: Demonstrative evidence represents a physical object, such as photos, videos, sound recordings, X-rays, drawings, etc.
Digital evidence: Digital evidence is evidence that can be obtained from electronic sources, including emails, hard drives, ATM transactions, cellphone records, and the like.
Witness testimony: Witness testimony is spoken evidence that is given under oath by a person who is somehow involved with the incident giving rise to the litigation.
Thus, witness testimony is merely one type of evidence among many. In fact, in most English-speaking countries outside the United States, the act of addressing the court under oath is called "giving evidence" rather than "testifying."
Whether a specific piece of evidence is admissible at trial depends on its relevance to the issue at hand. Evidence is "relevant" if is closely or logically connected to the fact that it is intended to establish. In a car accident case, the testimony of the parties involved and any bystanders who witnessed the accident is likely to be highly relevant to the facts they are alleging. For example, let's assume that there was a car accident involving one car the pulled out into the street because the driver didn't see the other car coming, leading to a crash. On cross-examination, the plaintiff's attorney asks the witness why he pulled out in front of the plaintiff, and the witness answers, "I didn't see her coming." This statement is crucial to establishing what happened since the defendant's mental state cannot be submitted to the court through any other form of evidence than the witness's own testimony.
Should You Testify?
So, should you testify in the unlikely event that your car accident case goes to trial? The answer depends on how relevant your testimony is to proving your side's case and whether you think that testifying will ultimately help your case. If you plan to testify about a fact that is important to your side's argument and are confident about what you saw and remember, it would be a good idea to testify. However, remember that if you testify, the other side will be able to cross-examine you. This means that the other side's lawyer will be able to poke holes in your statements and attempt to generally discredit you. If you are not entirely sure about what you saw or you know information that could be used to damage your side's case if it is brought up by the opposition on cross-examination, it is probably better not to testify.
Can You Be Forced to Testify?
In any case, the only time you will ever be forced to testify is if you are subject to a subpoena. A subpoena is an order issued by the court that requires the recipient to produce evidence that is relevant to the case at issue, whether that is the production of physical evidence or testifying as a witness. Subpoenas for witness testimony are generally issued in cases where the testimony will be very important to the party who requests it but the witness is hesitant or unwilling to testify. If you are subpoenaed, you have the right to object to the subpoena if you feel that it is unfair or unjust or if it would be extremely difficult to appear at the time requested by the subpoena. If the court dismisses your objections, it then becomes mandatory for you to do as the subpoena requests. Failure to appear and act in accordance with the subpoena can result in your being found guilty of contempt of court - an offense that can result in jail time. The court could also require you to compensate the parties who have been damaged by your refusal to comply. If you are subpoenaed, it is very important that you comply with the order.
Contact a Clearwater, FL Car Accident Attorney
After a car accident, it is critical to do everything possible to make sure your legal rights are protected and you get the compensation to which you are entitled. Although it is rare for car accident cases to make it to the trial stage, it can happen, and you will need competent representation to protect your interests if it does. Please contact the attorneys at Dolman Law Group for a free consultation by calling 727-451-6900.Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA 800 North Belcher Road Clearwater, FL 33765 727-451-6900