Among all the recorded statements automobile adjusters have to take, those regarding an accident at an intersection may be the thorniest when it comes to determining liability.  While simply asking an interviewee to describe the accident could get you embroiled in the mires of “he said, she said,” getting clear answers to these five essential questions should help you make considerable progress on the path to determine liability.

Of course, getting useful answers to questions like these often requires the following questions be asked clearly and directly.  Unfortunately, many adjusters adopt a “take what I can get” approach, often asking interviewees to describe an accident without any additional prompting or direction.  While that approach appears time-saving in concept, it’s proven to lead to less information than a more directed approach.  For the purposes of this blog, as we cover the five topics, we’ll also provide the results from a recent ACS study to show you how often adjusters actually uncover this information during the interview.

Determine the exact presence of each vehicle prior to the accident

64% of adjusters uncovered this information.

Establish and understand the location where the accident occurred before asking the interviewee to talk about the accident itself.  In our eyes, this is a fundamental rule of automobile accident statements, no matter where the accident occurred- but it’s especially important at an intersection.

To fully understand the location, you need to ask the interviewee to reveal any relevant information about the location itself, and then you need to be able to place each vehicle precisely within that location, both before the accident, at the moment of contact, and where the vehicle(s) came to rest.

What information is relevant to understanding the location?  You’ll have to use the context of their explanation to be sure you’ve covered everything, but there are a few basic elements that will always be relevant.  You should know the names of the intersecting streets, and how many lanes were on each street, what directions those lanes traveled, and whether any of those lanes were dedicated turn lanes.  You’ll want to know if the two roads bisect each other or if one ends at that intersection, and it is also relevant that you learn the speed limit on the roads. You’ll also need to ask about traffic controls, which we’ll cover in more detail in the next section.  Finally, it is important to learn about the conditions of the roads at the time of the accident, and it may occasionally be necessary to ask about elements like construction, landmarks, or other details that may be referenced in the interviewee’s description.

Once you understand the location, you must specifically place the vehicles within that location.  Where a vehicle is located relative to the status of elements within the location broadcasts intent to the other driver and is relevant to determining liability.  For instance, learning a vehicle was in a turn lane but didn’t turn, or learning that they needed to change lanes prior to the intersection due to a lane being closed for construction is considerably more revelatory for liability purposes than simply establishing what road they were traveling on. 

If you can precisely establish each vehicle within the location, not only will your statements be more effective for determining liability, you’ll also have a much easier time asking and receiving useful information from the following questions in this article.

Determine the status of traffic controls

60% of adjusters uncovered this information.

The precise nature and location of all the traffic controls at the intersection should come up over the course of you establishing an understanding of the location.  However, it’s not enough to know that they were merely present; you should seek to establish their status at the moments directly before and at the time of the accident, as well as the perceived response of each driver to their status.

For instance, if a driver notes their light was red or green, it’s important to establish how long the light had been red or green.  Had the driver just started moving, or were they traveling through the intersection unimpeded by the traffic control?  And did they notice the other driver in relation to the status of their traffic control?  Were they waiting at a stop sign, did they run through a red light, were they making a turn on a solid green?  Even if your interviewee does not know this information for certain, recording their perception of this information is often a crucial element to understanding how the accident occurred.

Determine the pre-accident actions of each driver

43% of adjusters uncovered this information.

What a driver was remembers doing before the accident is a useful piece of information that is forgotten by adjusters more often than not.  This is important, because a driver’s stated intent can be corroborated or refuted by other elements of the statement, or by the statement of the other driver, giving your company more helpful clues in determining liability.

How early the interviewee saw the other vehicle, how each driver was responding to a change in traffic controls, and what the interviewee believed the other driver to be doing is all useful information. 

It’s useful to gather this information before the impact occurred as well as gather the actions of the driver right up until the point of impact.  Did either driver swerve, sound their horn, or slam on the brakes?  What was happening in the interviewee’s vehicle right before impact (cell phone use, drinking or eating, adjusting the radio)?  Both drivers’ answers to these questions may prove fruitful to the investigation.

Determine the exact point of impact on each vehicle

61% of adjusters uncovered this information.

Asking about the point of impact is fairly standard practice for adjusters,but it’s not always collected as specifically as it should.  Far too many adjusters hear a statement such as, “And that’s when I hit them in the back,” and count this part of their role completed.  For ACS statement takers, we don’t consider that to be sufficient information.

At the end of an interview, you should be able to tell exactly where the impact occurred on each vehicle involved.  This information should be as specific as possible.  For instance, if one vehicle was struck in the rear, you should determine where exactly on the rear the contact was made.  A vehicle that was struck dead center of the rear bumper reveals a much different incident than a vehicle that was struck on the rear quarter panel or corner of the bumper.  However, interviewees will often refer to this simply as “the back”, or “the rear.”  It’s up to you to draw out exactly what they mean.

One quick additional note on points of impact: while they are some of the most useful pieces of information for determining the cause of the accident, they are not capable of telling the entire story of the accident by themselves.  Take care to avoid allowing assumptions to influence the questions that you ask, and use every detail of the accident to paint a picture of what happened.

Detail any post-accident interactions

54% of adjusters uncovered this information.

Finally, it’s important to inquire about post-accident interactions.  There are a number of different interactions that could be relevant to the resolution of the claim: interactions between the drivers; interactions with witnesses; interactions with police or medical personnel.  These interactions may help to demonstrate how one of the drivers felt or thought about the accident at the time, reveal the accident’s severity, or give more clues regarding fault.

Also, a note about injuries: we’ve found adjusters rarely miss the chance to inquire about whether they were mentioned at the scene, but they often fail to collect information regarding the injured individual’s treatment received or their plans to be treated, and even past injuries they are currently being treated for.  This information is very useful for determining exposure and should be recorded.

Did we miss anything? Let us know.

There are dozens more questions that should be asked during a recorded statement for an accident at an intersection, but these are some of the ones we felt had the strongest relation to yield.  Are there any we missed that you feel make a big difference?  Or any nuances to those questions you want to point out?  If so, tell us on Twitter at @acsacc, or let us know in the comments below!

Also- if you want to see more on ACS’s approach to recorded statements, check out our YouTube channel!

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