An essential part of any personal injury lawsuit is to back up your claims with evidence.
Virginia courts accept many different types of evidence, ranging from witness testimony to medical reports and pain journals.
By collecting several different kinds of evidence you can improve your chances of achieving the best possible result in your case.
In this article, we’ll briefly describe some of the most common forms of evidence you should collect in your personal injury case.
Note, however, that this article simply covers basic legal information, and does not count as legal advice.
Always speak with an attorney before taking any specific actions in your case.
Why Do I Need Evidence for My Personal Injury Lawsuit?
If you are involved in a traffic accident, you should report that accident to your insurance company.
At this point, your insurance company will likely communicate with the insurance company for the other driver.
On other occasions, you may need to work directly with the other driver’s insurance to discuss payment for the specific pain and suffering you experienced.
After investigating your claim and determining who was at fault for the collision, your insurance company will likely choose to offer you a settlement.
Once you accept this settlement, your case will end and you will only be able to claim damages specifically awarded by this settlement.
However, if you are unsatisfied with this settlement, or the settlement doesn’t cover the full costs of the accident, you might want to consider hiring an attorney to help you negotiate for a higher award.
In this scenario, you and your attorney will have to present evidence and make an argument for why you deserve a larger settlement in your case.
The Basics of a Personal Injury Case
The primary goal of your personal injury lawsuit should be to properly convey the extent of your injuries (called “damages”) to the insurance company and, ultimately, to the court.
In Virginia, damages can include a wide variety of personal and financial harms, such as:
- Medical expenses (ambulance rides, ER costs, surgery costs).
- Property damage (damage to your vehicle).
- Loss of income (being out of work due to your injury).
- Household expenses (such as having to pay for babysitters or cleaning services due to your injury).
- Pain, suffering, emotional distress, and loss of enjoyment.
- Any other expenses that directly correlate to the accident.
Basically, the point of bringing a personal injury claim is to recoup any costs that arise as a result of an accident.
Put another way, if another person is the cause of an accident, they (or their insurance) must pay for it.
For this reason, you can make a claim for any change in your health, the value of your property, or your enjoyment of life in your personal injury suit.
However, for the jury to award you damages, you need to back up your claims with facts.
What Kinds of Evidence Should I Bring to Court?
Certain kinds of evidence are more persuasive than others.
For example, a medical bill for a trip to the emergency room is a stronger piece of evidence than a journal documenting your pain and suffering.
Further, the strength of each piece of evidence can change based on the circumstances of your case. For this reason, you should always speak with an attorney before submitting any evidence to the court.
Often, the best kind of evidence is the kind you can bring into the courtroom.
This includes pieces of a damaged vehicle, torn or bloody clothing, casts, or any other proof of damages which were caused by the accident.
Make sure you also take photographs of any physical evidence before you handle it.
Of course, you won’t be able to pack up and preserve every piece of evidence involved in your accident.
Where you can’t, you should be careful to take multiple photographs that include a timestamp.
In general, it’s a good idea to take pictures of:
- Any injuries you sustained as a result of the accident. You should also take pictures of your injuries over the course of your recovery.
- Damage to either vehicle.
- The scene of the accident, include damage to the surrounding area and the weather conditions.
- Injuries to other people in the car with you, if they give you permission. Even if they don’t want to sue, their injuries can show the severity of the accident.
Remember to always take photos from multiple angles, and to include a timestamp.
If you are unable to take pictures immediately after your accident, return to the scene as soon as you can safely do so.
The less time that elapses between the accident and when you’ve taken your pictures, the better.
If you suffered any injuries as a result of your accident, you will be able to use your medical records as evidence.
This should include records of every doctor’s visit related to your injuries, along with any ER or hospital records.
Additionally, you should include any records from therapy or psychological treatment related to your accident.
Finally, you should also request documentation proving your health before the accident from your primary care physician.
You can use this to prove that your injuries actually resulted from the accident, thus cutting off a possible defense from the opposition.
Eyewitness testimony has two purposes. First, it can help establish fault. Second, it can help establish the amount or severity of the damages you incurred.
For example, if anyone witnessed the accident, you should ask them if they’d feel comfortable testifying in court.
This can be particularly strong evidence if the witness is a stranger who has no reason to be biased in your favor.
Note that any eyewitnesses on the scene must have directly seen the accident, not just the aftereffects.
While you can collect testimony from other eyewitnesses, such as an individual who witnessed the damage caused by the accident, their testimony usually won’t be as strong as a direct witness of the accident.
While medical records and testimony from your doctors are obviously ideal, even a statement from someone who arrived at the scene directly after the accident can be helpful in proving that you were injured.
Proof of Lost Wages
If you missed any work as a result of your injuries, you can prove your absence using documentation from your employer.
You should also document if you take vacation days in order to attend doctor’s appointments.
You should collect documents that show exactly which days you were unable to work, as well as what your pay rate was before the accident.
Note that you will generally also need to provide medical evidence showing that you were unable to work on those days.
Journals Showing Pain and Inconvenience
Finally, remember that you can be compensated for pain and suffering, as well as any inconvenience the accident caused you.
To this end, you should also keep a journal detailing any residual pain you experience due to your injuries.
You should describe the degree of pain, as well as whether it was physically debilitating for you.
Additionally, it is important to document whenever your injuries caused you additional inconvenience.
For example, you should write down whenever your injuries cause you to need a taxi or rideshare service, rather than driving yourself to work.
As another common example, write down any incident where you failed to perform a common household task, such as carrying a box up the stairs.
As we noted above, “damages” include any significant changes to your way of life.
For this reason, an inability to perform common tasks due to your injury can also count as evidence in a personal injury case.
Accident Reports: The Notable Outlier
Despite what many people believe, accident reports created by police officers are not admissible as evidence in court.
What you can do, however, is use the police report in the course of your settlement negotiation.
When drafting your initial demand letter, you will summarize the basic facts of your case and include all the important records we’ve described above.
In this situation, the accident report may be useful due to insurance companies having different rules of evidence than personal injury courts.
However, even if your settlement negotiation fails and your case goes in front of a jury, the accident report will still include important information that might be helpful to your case.
For example, these reports generally include the names of witnesses, details about the weather, and other helpful information about the accident.
In this way, it’s generally recommended that you ask for a copy of the accident report as soon as possible after the crash.
This is especially true if you suspect the other driver of a crime, such as driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
However, remember that the effectiveness of this report will largely depend on the specific course of your case.
Chances are high that the outcome of your personal injury case will depend on the amount and quality of the evidence you collect.
However, you also need to be able to shape that evidence into a cohesive argument in court.
For this reason, no matter how strong your evidence is, it is in your best interests to work with an experienced personal injury attorney before entering the courtroom.
By working with the right lawyer you can achieve the best possible outcome in your case.