How Witness Testimony Works in Truck Accident Cases
Perhaps no part of the criminal justice system is more distorted by our media than witness testimony. We have all seen our favorite Perry Mason, Matlock, or Law and Order attorney get someone on the stand who does not want to talk and catch them in a lie, cracking the case and saving the day. To the credit of years of screenwriters, witness testimony, especially eyewitness testimony, is extremely valuable in any legal proceeding. This is especially true in a Texas truck accident case. In many cases, it will play a crucial role in how your truck accident claim proceeds.
However, the part you never see on television are the depositions, where the vast majority of witness testimony takes place. Remember, 90% of all legal cases never make it to trial. Knowing that, it seems rather odd that witness testimony could play such a crucial role in your truck injury case, since, in the vast majority of cases, no jury will ever see it. Dallas truck accident attorney Michael Grossman explains why, while witness testimony is not used the same way in real cases as on television, it is nevertheless a key component in any strategy to successfully pursue your personal injury claim.
Questions Answered On This Page:
- How is witness testimony gathered?
- How do attorneys get witness testimony admitted into court?
- Why is witness testimony so important to your truck accident case?
- What are some of the different ways witness testimony can be used?
- Even if a case doesn't go to trial, how can witness testimony help win your case?
What witness testimony is admissible?
In most fictionalized court proceedings, witnesses seem to be called at the whims of the attorneys. Conveniently enough, everyone from crooked brothers-in-law, jilted lovers, and even grocery clerks are always right there in the court room, ready for their turn on the stand. In reality, such a system would never work. Who in their right mind would want to call anyone to testify in a trial without first knowing exactly what they were going to say? It makes for great drama and would make for absolutely awful real-life justice.
If you think about all the crazy things you've seen people do on reality television shows, which really just pay folks in notoriety and attention, you could imagine the chaos in the legal system if anyone who needed a bit of attention tried to testify in a trial. I do not mean to disparage reality show contestants or anyone seeking attention (we all need it.) Rather, I am making the point that if you allowed those desperately seeking it, by any means available, into our civil and criminal justice proceedings, you would get a lot more entertainment, but a lot less justice.
For that reason, we have rules and procedures about how to gather witness testimony. Witness testimony can be given in person at trial, by affidavit, or by deposition, but it must always be attested to before a person authorized by the court to receive the testimony. This means that not just anyone is allowed to ask witnesses questions, film them, or even compel them to testify in the first place. Also, both sides in a dispute must be granted equal access to any witnesses.
Regardless of how great a witness's testimony is, it must fit into the rules that allow a jury to even hear it. Under the Texas Rules of Evidence, every person is competent to be a witness with the exception of insane persons and children who the court has determined to not have sufficient mental capacity to relate answers to the questions they are being asked. Another requirement is that the witness must have firsthand, personal knowledge of the events they are testifying to. In the case of a trucking accident, every person who was directly involved or witnessed the accident may testify as long as they have personal knowledge of the truck accident and have sufficient mental capacity to do so.
Further, men and women with special training, education, and/or experience in a relevant topic may testify if a judge believes that it can help a jury better understand the issues. This is important to your case because the average person is not especially well-equipped to evaluate the raw evidence from something as complex as a truck accident.
Every case has a fact pattern, i.e. Sally said Bob's truck hit her car, while Bob argues that Sally's car failed to yield the right of way. Starting from that point, the lawyers for Bob and Sally will argue from their client's point of view. Since most folks would have trouble determining whether the physical evidence in the accident supported Bob's claim or Sally's, each side would likely retain an expert in accident forensics to bolster their claim. While this person did not directly witness the accident, their experience with how cars, trucks, skid marks, and debris behave in an accident is relevant to sorting out who is correct. You can read more about how expert witness testimony is utilized in court here.
Witness testimony by deposition.
Prior to trial, witness testimony can be taken by deposition and can then be used in negotiation strategy, mediation, and trial preparation. Depositions are oral testimony transcribed by a court reporter or recorded as video or audio, which are just as admissible in court as if the witness were present in the courtroom. This evidence can be pivotal in negotiations. Since everyone is under oath, they can be subject to perjury charges, potentially resulting in prison time, if they are deliberately untruthful.
In a deposition, your attorney is allowed to ask any witness any relevant question about the case. Unless the subject matter of the question invades the attorney-client privilege or is purely designed to harass or embarrass the witness, then the person must answer. The following are some examples of permissible and impermissible questions your attorney may ask to the truck driver who hit you:
- OK. "You consumed alcohol the day of the incident, didn't you?"
- Not OK. "When was the last time you had sexual intercourse?"
- OK. "At no point when you were changing lanes before you hit my client did you check your mirrors, right?"
- Not OK. "Did your lawyer tell you to answer that way?"
The point of the deposition process is to gather information that could lead to the discovery of evidence. They're also used to test witnesses' memories, biases, and credibility. Your attorney is allowed to look into evidence from the witness' past that might be relevant to their credibility, such as criminal convictions. For instance, if the truck driver who injured you has been arrested for a DUI in the past, that is something your attorney definitely wants to know before you get to trial. Similarly, if the driver has been convicted of passing bad checks, it is useful to know, as such dishonesty directly impacts the credibility of the witness.
Does finding criminal activity in the driver's or the trucking company operators past automatically mean that you've won? Of course not. It is just more ammunition to add to your case's arsenal. Similarly, any criminal convictions in your past should be revealed to your own counsel, so they can attempt to keep that information out of court, or formulate a plan to limit the damage such information could do to your claim. Like anyone else, not all of our clients have been angels, but they were certainly all injured by someone else's negligence.
Witness testimony at trial.
Virtually every witness in a truck accident will be deposed prior to trial. This is because neither side wants any surprises about what the person is going to say. Contrary to courtroom dramas you might see on TV or the movies, there are very few "a ha!" moments in trial where jurors and attorneys hear explosive testimony for the first time together.
So, what's the point of having witnesses at trial at all, given that your attorney can simply show the video of the deposition? Because some people are either so believable or unbelievable we want the jury to see them in person. Imagine if the driver who hit you had a blood-alcohol level of .12, but claimed in his deposition that he'd not been drinking at all. It'd be fantastic to have him on the stand in front of the jury, so that he could either lie again or admit that he lied in his deposition. Furthermore, the words people say are only a small part of how people evaluate truthfulness. Body language, tone of voice, and other non-verbal clues can impact a jury just as much as what someone actually says. It's a basic part of human psychology, going back to prehistory.
Witnesses can win your case without ever going to trial.
Have you ever seen a sporting event that was so lopsided that by the end of the game, there are very few fans left in the stadium? Perhaps you have seen a movie or a play that was so bad, halfway through you notice a lot more empty seats than when you walked in. When an outcome becomes predictable or inevitable, it is human nature to give up and move on to something else.
How does this apply to your truck accident case? The reason we want as many witnesses and as much evidence as possible prior to trial is that they might convince the defendant and his insurance company's lawyer that they've got no chance of winning. Unlike a sporting event, where two teams take the field evenly, trials are rarely ever even. One side generally has an advantage over another. If the advantage is so obviously overwhelming, the trucking company's attorneys can be intimidated by the mountain of evidence against them and decide there is no point in even going to trial. In essence, they decide that, since they'll almost certainly lose in court if the case proceeds, it's cheaper for them to forfeit that right and agree to a negotiated settlement. At this point, the negotiation process begins and, with any luck, we can reach a just settlement without you (and us) having to go through the time and expense of trial.
At Grossman Law Offices, our skill and experience at conducting depositions and getting witnesses ready for trial is second to none. We will use whatever tactics are most likely to successfully resolve your case, whether it is negotiation, mediation, or a trial. If you have been involved in a truck accident call Dallas-Fort Worth 18-wheeler accident attorney Michael Grossman today at (855) 326-0000.
To learn more about how truck accident cases work, read any of the following: