If you’re a witness to an accident, you may be scared and unsure of what to do next. If the accident proves fatal for someone involved, this adds a whole separate layer of emotions. In terms of logistics, how you should act at the scene of the accident will be the same regardless of the severity of injuries. Afterwards, you might need to consider what it means to be a witness and deal with any possible emotional trauma you might experience.
What steps should I take if I witness a car accident?
First and foremost, the two most important things to consider at the scene of a Phoenix car accident are your own safety and whether or not you can be helpful in the situation. If you cannot safely approach the scene, you should continue moving in order to protect yourself. If you can safely pull over and were a direct witness to the accident, or if you pass an accident after it occurred and see no one else nearby, you should attempt to help by following these suggestions.
- Pull over somewhere safe, at least 100 feet from the scene of the crash in order to allow room for emergency vehicles to approach. Turn on your hazard lights and if you have any flares in your car’s emergency kit, light them to aid first responders in finding the scene and warn oncoming traffic to avoid the area.
- Call 911, and be prepared to be as specific as possible about the location – either a cross street, a highway mile marker, or the closest highway exit will help emergency personnel find you.
- If it is safe to approach the scene, check on anyone involved in the accident. If they are still in their cars, check for consciousness and bleeding. If they have exited their cars, speak to them to determine coherence. Do not attempt to provide aid to anyone, unless a victim is in immediate danger – like if there is a possibility of a car fire. The best thing you can do for an injured person is to stay with them and talk to them in order to keep them conscious and comforted until help arrives.
- Exchange contact information with drivers and any victims capable of doing so; document the scene by taking pictures if it is safe to do so and provide any statements to the police on the scene. When giving a statement, stick to the facts and don’t try to name fault or let your emotions take over. Know that you may be contacted at a later date to provide further information or act as a witness in a trial.
What to expect after witnessing a fatal accident
You may not realize the emotional effects of witnessing a fatal crash until far after it occurs.
After the event, you may begin to realize you are struggling with the emotional impact. You may begin to experience feelings of depression or anxiety, nightmares, or loss of interest in things that previously interested you or made you happy. These types of issues can happen in the immediate aftermath of the event, or weeks or months later. Be sure to seek support from friends or family in order to cope with these feelings. The American Psychological Association offers the following advice to dealing with symptoms of trauma:
- Give yourself time to recover
- Talk about the event with people you trust
- Speak to others that have experienced the same thing as you
- Ask for support
- Avoid spending too much time alone
- Stick to your routine
- Consider seeking professional help
- Notice how you’re feeling
- Ask for support from your employer
- Take care of yourself
- Avoid consuming too much media about the event
If you still feel you’re having trouble coping after a reasonable amount of time, or if you are experiencing symptoms that are affecting your life in a negative way, it may be time to seek professional counseling from a licensed therapist.
What if I’m called as a witness in a trial?
If you witness a fatal car accident and provide a statement to the police, you may be called as a witness in a trial for the event. This may sound scary and like a reason to not provide a statement to police, but eye witnesses can be vital in providing necessary information for the case. The best thing you can do for yourself if you are called as a witness is to contact an experienced attorney.
Remember that there will be at least two lawyers present at a trial (for the prosecution and the defense), and they will both be looking out for the best interest of their clients. This may mean difficult witness questions and attempting to spin a narrative in the way that best suits them. If a lawyer does manage to confuse you as a witness, you run the risk of changing your statement or giving inaccurate information without meaning to; this could cause significant legal issues for you. An experienced lawyer can help you prepare for whatever you might run into in a courtroom and be sure you are prepared to give a calm and factual statement for the best interest of the case. One of the things we do as plaintiffs’ injury lawyers is help our clients and witnesses prepare for this type of experience. If you have questions about it, we’re more than happy to answer them.
Did you witness a fatal car accident in Phoenix? Did you lose a loved one in a car crash? Call Plattner Verderame, PC, today at 602-266-2002, or complete our contact form to schedule a consultation today. We have offices in Phoenix and Tempe, and serve clients throughout Arizona.
Partner Frank Verderame is a seasoned trial attorney, who has dedicated his life to helping victims of serious injuries. He is a Board Certified Specialist in Personal Injury and Wrongful Death Litigation, and has been an active part of legal communities and organizations since he started his practice, back in 1983.
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