The outcome of a personal injury case can hinge on the quality of the evidence, the degree to which it is preserved, and how it is presented. Insufficient evidence can drastically reduce a settlement amount or jury award, or even lose a case altogether.
During the course of his career, personal injury attorney Gabriel Sepulveda-Sanchez has secured millions of dollars for his clients in judgments, settlements, and verdicts in cases ranging from fender-benders to catastrophic injuries.
In this blog, Mr. Sepulveda-Sanchez explains which pieces of evidence are the most critical to the success of a personal injury case, the best methods of collecting that evidence, and how to preserve it. Mr. Sepulveda-Sanchez serves Los Angeles, East L.A., Pasadena, and nearby areas of California.
Photos and Videos
Photographic evidence is crucial to a personal injury case. They can show the extent of the plaintiff's injuries and offer clues to what caused the injury. In any personal injury case, the victim should photograph:
- Their injuries
- The scene of the incident
- Damage to property
These pictures should be taken as soon as possible after the accident. Plaintiffs should also photograph their injuries in the hours and days after the incident to document any bruises and swelling that appear in the aftermath.
Examples of photographs that can aid different personal injury cases include:
- Car accidents: Plaintiffs should photograph the cars involved from multiple angles. They should take up-close pictures of the damage to their car and the other vehicles. As many of these photos as possible should include license plates. Photographs of the accident scene should show traffic lights and signs, weather conditions, damaged objects, skid marks, other drivers and passengers, witnesses, injuries, and emergency responders. Plaintiffs should return to the scene a few days after the accident to photograph any remaining details they may have missed. Finally, traffic cameras or CCTV footage that captured the accident can corroborate the plaintiff's story.
- Slip-and-fall injuries: Plaintiffs should take pictures of the scene of the accident as soon as possible to capture the hazardous conditions that caused their injury. If the plaintiff slipped on spilled liquid in a restaurant, for example, they should photograph the spill before employees can clean it up. Wider shots of the area around the dangerous condition can also help establish what caused the incident. Plaintiffs should also request any surveillance footage of their injury from the establishment in which it occurred.
- Defective product injuries: Plaintiffs should photograph the product as quickly as possible after they suffer their injury. If possible, they should avoid moving the product or changing its appearance.
After a car accident, those involved should call the police as soon as possible. They will interview the parties involved in the wreck, as well as any third-party witnesses.
The report that the police file can be a powerful piece of evidence in the plaintiff's favor. It collates witness statements into a single document and provides the officers' conclusions following their investigation. Plaintiffs should get copies of this report as soon as they're available.
In some personal injury cases, such as slip-and-fall and defective product injuries, the police may not be involved. In these situations, the responsibility to collect witness statements falls on the plaintiff or those accompanying them.
Witnesses have no legal obligation to stick around after the incident, so interviewing them as soon as possible is critical. Information from an independent, third-party witness could make a case. For example, if the plaintiff was injured in a slip-and-fall on a spill at a restaurant, a witness may be able to testify they'd previously notified management of the spill. They may also be able to confirm the pain they saw the plaintiff in immediately after the injury.
Copies of medical reports and bills are perhaps the most important documentation of the type and extent of injuries that a plaintiff can present. Plaintiffs should seek medical treatment as soon as possible and make sure they tell their medical providers about the cause of their injuries. The treatment records will link the injuries to the accident and prove their severity.
Examples of medical records include:
- Paramedic reports
- Emergency room admittance charts
- Doctors' notes
- Test results
- Doctors' diagnoses
The amount of the plaintiff's medical bills will also determine the value of their claim. Plaintiffs must keep copies of every single medical bill they receive and all receipts for out-of-pocket costs.
These include, but are not limited to:
- X-rays, MRIs, CT scans, and other imaging tests
- Bills for radiologists who interpreted imaging
- Emergency room bills
- Emergency room physician bills
- Medical equipment such as bandages or crutches
Evidence of Pain and Suffering
Unlike medical bills, which provide an itemized and exact list of the damages the plaintiff suffered, pain and suffering are incredibly difficult to quantify. It is the plaintiff's responsibility to document the emotional damages they suffered in as much detail as possible.
Plaintiffs should keep a detailed and dated pain journal in which they write, as descriptively as possible, about their daily pain, suffering, and emotional stress.
Pain journals should chronicle:
- Daily pain levels
- Side effects of medications the plaintiff is taking because of their injuries
- Difficulty sleeping
- Embarrassment from needing help dressing, eating, or bathing
- Loss of ability to care for dependents
- Financial stress
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms
How to Preserve Evidence
Potential defendants may try to discard or alter evidence that would help prove the plaintiff's case. Spoliation of evidence may also happen accidentally. Electronic evidence, such as emails, computer records, or security camera footage, can be especially prone to destruction.
To avoid this, the plaintiff or their attorney should send a "spoliation letter" that puts the defendant on-notice to preserve the evidence enumerated in the letter. The letter should have a list that "includes, but is not limited to," any evidence from the incident. This can accomplish several things.
Hopefully, the spoliation letter will lead the defendant to preserve the evidence. However, if they do not, the spoliation letter will make it difficult for the defendant to claim the evidence was destroyed accidentally. Additionally, the plaintiff's attorney may ask the judge to instruct the jury that any damaged or missing evidence would have helped prove the plaintiff's case.
Contact Our Los Angeles Personal Injury Attorney Today
In nearly a decade of practicing law, personal injury attorney Gabriel Sepulveda-Sanchez has established a track record of attaining justice and compensation for his clients. He has secured millions of dollars in verdicts, judgments, and settlements.
Mr. Sepulveda-Sanchez serves Los Angeles, East L.A., Pasadena, and nearby areas of California. Call (213) 426-1051 to schedule a consultation.