Most personal injury lawsuits will make use of one or more witnesses. A witness is anyone who has firsthand information about the specifics of a case. This could range from a bystander who saw a car accident happen, to an employee of a company who observed wrongdoing or negligence. The information that witnesses give is called testimony. In many cases, multiple witnesses will be called to testify.
Witnesses can figure into a case whether or not it goes to trial. Your lawyer will contact any potential witnesses early in the claim process. They may use an informal process of asking questions and recording the answers to get an idea of what the witness would say in trial. Or, they may ask for a formal deposition, which makes an official record that both sides can use of the witness’s statements. Depositions are usually used with witnesses who would not volunteer any information on their own, like the employee of a pharmaceutical company in a defective drug case.
Often, the information gathered from witnesses pre-trial is enough to create strong evidence and convince the other side to settle. If not, witnesses will be asked to testify in open court, and can be questioned (“examined”) by both sides.
What kinds of witnesses are most common in personal injury cases?
Many types of witnesses are used. These can include:
- Someone who saw an accident happen, and can describe how it happened and who did what
- The person who was responsible for safety precautions in a situation, such as a supervisor in a construction accident
- The doctor who treated your injury and diagnosed what was wrong
- Executives of a company that caused an injury, such as in a faulty produce case
- Employees of any company involved
- Police officers who responded to an accident and made the initial accident report
Virtually any kind of witness can be called, as long as they have some factual knowledge of the case. It’s important that a witness has direct, firsthand knowledge and doesn’t just provide speculation.
Sometimes, an expert witness will also be called. Expert witnesses are different in that they have no connection to the case at hand. Instead, they provide expertise and help the jury understand difficult scientific or medical concepts related to your claim.
What if a witness doesn’t want to testify?
Testifying is not optional. If a witness has crucial information about your case, your lawyer can ask the judge to subpoena them. A subpoena is a court order requiring the witness to appear and give testimony. They must not only show up, but also share what they know in response to specific questions from attorneys on both sides. If they fail to show up, or if they resist answering the questions, the judge can find them in contempt of the court and issue a warrant for their arrest.
This kind of situation is rare in personal injury cases. Most witnesses are either well-meaning bystanders, or professionals who will comply with the law.
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