Don’t trust insurance companies. One of the first things they will do in a case where there may be exposure – is to take the statements of witnesses. Eye witnesses to be precise.
While it is good to take a statement in a timely manner. It is bad when the interviewer messes with the memory of the eye witness or skews what they say. Insurers will never turn over their work product of interviewing these witnesses. Though they must turn over any interview of the plaintiff who unknowingly agreed to be interviewed before hiring a lawyer (shudder).
A plaintiff attorney will almost get involved in a case after an insurance company has swooped in and done interviews. Sometimes I won’t bother to take a statement and will just immediately note the deposition of the witness. But in cases where the statements need to be taken, you should not leave the process completely up to (for example) the discretion of a private investigator. Here is a list of general interview guidelines when interviewing an eye witness.
Interview Guidelines for Statement of Eyewitness
1. Explain who we are and who we represent. Make sure the witness is comfortable and willing to proceed.
2. Request permission to audio or zoom record. If granted make sure that consent is documented/recorded. If not that’s okay.
3. Do not lead the eyewitness.
4. Do not try to create a memory for the eyewitness.
5. It is most important to have an eyewitness give their own story in their own words.
6. Do not put words in the eyewitness’s mouth
7. Find out who else has interviewed the eyewitness and if there are any statements, ask if they can share. If they don’t have a copy of those
statements, they should be advised that it is their right to ask whoever took their statement to share with them.
8. Basic ID information: name, alias, birthdate, residence location, cel #, employer
9. Any relationship to anyone involved in the incident
10. Main Question: Please tell me everything that you can remember about the incident.
11. Ask any follow up questions needed to flush out the answer that the witness doesn’t volunteer such as:
a. Time of day
d. Every single little detail of the scene
e. Every single little detail of the incident
f. Every single little detail post incident
g. Did they do anything with regard to the incident
h. Did they do anything with regard to the aftermath of the incident
12. Did they write any recap of any sort
c. Incident report
e. Twitter, FB, insta or any social media
f. Audio memo
13. Did they take any photos or video
14. Who have they shared with regarding the incident – friends, family, the participants, other observers
15. Anything else they want to say about the incident.
16. If statement is needed – explain that you will summarize the discussion and send back to the eyewitness. They should make any edits or corrections. Send it back to be finalized and you will edit it per their corrections and return via an e signable pdf.
Photo: from a painting in my dining room