Here are 12 key tips to help you question a defendant in a car accident case:
1. Were you taking any medication or non-prescription drugs on the day of the accident?
You want to know whether the driver was high on drugs while driving. The natural follow-up is whether he drank any alcohol within 24 hours prior to getting into the car that day.
2. Weather: You want to know whether the weather had any effect on contributing to the accident.
Was it raining? Had it rained? Was the ground wet? Do you have snow tires? Was your window open? (To determine if he could hear anything immediately prior the accident like screeching tires or kids playing.)
3. Their senses: You want to know whether their sight, sound and balance were all in good working order. If not, you need to question them extensively about their limitations. Do you wear eyeglasses? Any difficulty hearing? Any neurological problems? Previous medical problems such as a stroke?
4. Speed: You must establish their speed at impact, as well as at various points immediately before impact. If the witness does not know an exact speed, ask for an estimate. In New York, an attorney can, without objection, ask for estimates of speed. Once you have established the approximate speed, you can now move on to timing.
5. Timing: You need to establish how long it took to go from point A to point B. It is those reference points that will tell you conclusively whether this witness' testimony about their speed, time and distance are accurate. For example, "How long did it take you to travel 1/4 mile?" "How much time did it take you to travel the one block before impact? "How long did it take from the time you left the intersection at Main Street until the impact?" The follow-up questions lead directly to the next question: Distance.
6. Distance: You need to establish how far the driver was at various reference points. "How far were you from the impact point when you saw the red light?" "How far did you travel from Main Street until the impact?" Why is this important? There are simple mathematical formulas that will allow you to plug in the numbers that the witness testifies to that will either support their testimony, or allow you to prove that they are wrong. "Speed, time and distance" is the mantra of any personal injury trial lawyer who tries car accident cases. If you know any two out of the three elements, you can calculate the third. It's a very valuable tool for a trial lawyer, and allows you to create a devastating point when making closing arguments.
7. Geographic area: What is surrounding you? Is this a residential area or a commercial area? Was there parking on the street? Were there any trucks, busses or cars that blocked your view?
8. The car they were driving. Besides the usual make, model and color, ask for their license plate number and when their car was last inspected before the accident. Ask whether they have an ipod dock or a GPS system. Is the GPS portable, or fixed on the dashboard? Are there fuzzy dice hanging from the rearview mirror? Do you smoke? Were you smoking at the time?
9. Were you distracted?
10. WHEN DID YOU SEE THE OTHER CAR FOR THE FIRST TIME? This is important to establish that the defendant may not have seen the driver until it was too late to do anything. The failure to see that which should have been seen may establish liability for you in your case.
11. Mechanics of your car: Was it in good working order? If not, when had it last been serviced?
12. Passengers in your car: Who were they? Ages? Addresses? Conversation level? Distracted by passengers?
This list gives you an outline of key elements you need to establish liability in a car accident case in New York. As always, preparation is the key to knowing what questions to ask.