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The Importance of Independent Witnesses in Winning a Personal Injury Case

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Attorney at Cooper Hurley Injury Lawyers

The Importance of Independent Witnesses in Winning a Personal Injury Case

By John Cooper, Virginia Injury Lawyer

As an experienced personal injury attorney who practices in Virginia and North Carolina (NC), I am often reminded how critical finding, interviewing and securing the testimony of independent witnesses is to winning cases. 

Jim Hurley of Cooper Hurley on three things to do after a car wreck

There are many kinds of personal injury cases that are essentially a "he said, she said" battle.  For example, my client in an automobile case will indicate that he had a green light as he passed through the intersection when he was T‑boned by the at-fault driver.  The defendant or at-fault driver will claim through his insurance defense attorney that he had the green light and not my client.  This situation happens so often.  Sometimes it makes me doubt that people will tell the truth even when they should like when they're under oath. 

 However, in that situation where it's just my client versus the other side as to what happened the tiebreaker is often the independent witness.  An independent witness means somebody who is not a friend or relative of either party and has no real dog in the fight.  The independent witness is essentially a bystander who happens to have observed the key facts and can break the tie by clearly identifying which vehicle had the green light. 

One of the keys to securing a good recovery in significant cases is identifying the independent witnesses early on.  Sometimes the police officer will have received a statement from the independent witness and have their phone number and address on the police accident report. 

However, it is surprising to me how often, for whatever reason, the police officer doesn't bother to take down that fundamental information.  Sometimes we have to ask the officer to look back over his notes and see if he has any indication of an independent witness which requires a little extra effort but is often a good use of time, particularly in a significant injury case. 

Other places to find independent witnesses in a major automobile wreck would be by getting the 911 records and seeing who called in, or by canvassing the local area for someone outside a store or residence near the intersection who might have observed what happened.  In big cases when I know that I need that independent witness to make sure that the truth prevails, I will get in touch with the witness early on and make double sure that I know how to be in touch with him or her in the future. 

Then, at the soonest possible opportunity, I will take their statement and meet with them to make sure to ask the key questions and document their recollection while it's as fresh as possible.

Finally, no statement by an independent witness is typically admissible unless they testify under oath in court or in a deposition.  So in major litigation, I will as soon as possible after filing suit, call for the deposition of the independent witness to get them on the record to preserve what they have to say for future use.  Then, even if the witness later moves or dies the evidence is there officially on the record. 

If you have been hurt in a car crash, you should call our attorneys at Cooper Hurley for a free consultation at (757) 455-0077.

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John Cooper

John Cooper is a veteran of personal injury law practice in Virginia. A native Virginian, he was raised in Norfolk and Virginia Beach. He has more than 20 years of experience handling personal injury cases and recently handled the largest auto accident settlement in 2010, according to VA Lawyers Weekly. The award provided $3.5 million to a child whose young father died when the vehicle he was a passenger in was rear-ended by a careless truck driver.

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Jim Hurley

Jim Hurley has been practicing law throughout Virginia for more than two-and-a-half decades. During his career, he has tried more than 100 jury trials — a staggering number — and handled hundreds more that were settled out of court. He is guided by the principle that the client is in charge of his or her case and should be kept fully aware of the litigation process. Jim has been awarded an AV Rating by Martindale-Hubbell, the highest rating given, for his practice of law. He was named in Virginia Super Lawyers in 2014, 2015, 2016.

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Bill O’mara

Bill O’Mara started his legal career in 2008, moving back to his home town of Chesapeake, VA. He has practiced in the field of plaintiffs’ personal injury and other litigation. He has gained extensive court room and trial experience, including contested trials before judges and juries across Hampton Roads. In 2014, Mr. O’Mara joined Cooper Hurley Injury Lawyers as an associate attorney. He became a partner in 2017.

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