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Should I Take Pictures at the Accident Scene?

In a word, absolutely. In a car accident when participants and passengers and passers-by are tense and emotional, it’s easy to become flustered. One of the most significant choices to make is to document the scene with photographs. Verifying traffic conditions, emergency responders, the drivers and passengers, and above all, the extent of damage or injuries to people or vehicles can be crucial in proving liability.

Can I Get a Witness? Not So Fast.
Although courtroom scenes in movies place high value on the statements of witnesses, scientific research has demonstrated that eyewitness testimony tends to be somewhat unreliable, especially in conditions of stress like an accident. Trauma, fear, physical injury, or simple worry can skew the reliability of witnesses’ memories as well as our own. On the other hand, a picture never forgets. As a famous person once observed, “Photography is truth.”

Smile for the Camera
Is taking photographs of an accident legal? If so, what should you take pictures of? First, if an accident took place in the middle of downtown Manhattan, for example, a personal injury lawyer would explain that you have a rightto take pictures because public spaces offer no reasonable expectation of privacy. Without a warrant, officers do not have a right to take your camera or make you delete images.

When you begin taking pictures, verify any injuries you or the other driver or passengers may have incurred at the time of the accident, making sure to have reference items (a ruler, coins, a finger) in the photo to preserve a sense of size and scale. Include whole-body pictures as well as closeups of any injury. If emergency responders arrive or transport someone, take pictures. If you have sustained injury, take pictures immediately as well as a few days later, as soft tissue damage can take time to become visible.

Document the Scene
It’s also important to take pictures of the automobiles and the area. If your vehicle made contact with another car, carefully photograph the other driver’s car and license plate, especially any impact points showing paint transfer from one car to another. Photos demonstrating traffic lights or signs, security or traffic cameras, obstructions, construction, or weather conditions can be crucial to determining liability Any fluid, tire tracks, debris, and even the surrounding buildings should be recorded as soon as possible. If you don’t already have your cell phone’s camera set to record time and date, take a picture of someone else’s cell showing that information.

You Must Remember This
We know witness testimony is notoriously unreliable. Our own memories, especially under stress, are rarely perfect. Pictures can help our own recollection of all the conditions we recorded — and prompt our memories of important details that may have gotten lost in the momentary confusion of the event and its aftermath. In a lawsuit, it goes without saying that the opposing side will paint a different picture of events than you will, but if your recollection can be verified with evidence, it will be significantly harder to contradict.

Act Quickly
One major reason photos are crucial is that with every moment, evidence disappears. You do have some time to bring charges in the case of an accident — in New York, for instance, the statute of limitations for a car accident allows filings up to three years — but an personal injury lawyer would doubtlessly suggest you begin documenting and putting together a case as soon as possible. In case of a lawsuit for wrongful death filed in New York, the statute of limitations is only two years, and in cases of that gravity, it would be vital to have a personal injury attorney as a specialist in this field to provide consultation and insight.

Bottom Line
No one wants an accident to happen. If an accident does occur, it is crucial to preserve memories, evidence, and detail that may have been overlooked at the time. In New York, hiring a personal injury law firm whose attorneys are familiar with case law, evidence collection, and expert testimony may make all the difference to your case — with your help in preserving the moment when it happened.

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