Is an “Eyewitness” Account of a Truck Accident Always Reliable?
1 Riverway, Suite 2325
Houston, Texas 77056
The Doan Law Firm, our commercial truck accident injury lawyer is frequently asked questions
along the line of “Can I still file a lawsuit even if the police
say I was the cause of an accident?” or “What can I do if
the other driver has an eyewitness who says that I was in the wrong?”
On this page, we will explain that an “eyewitness” account
of a commercial truck accident is often at odds with other evidence in
a case and how an eyewitness can give an honest, but inaccurate, recounting
The science of being wrong
It is well-known to both criminal and civil lawyers that “solid,
reliable, eyewitness testimony” is actually quite rare and that,
more often than not, such evidence can be successfully challenged in court.
While this observation is certainly not new, it is only relatively recently
that science has been able to demonstrate
why this is the case.
The best-known scientific experiments into how recalled information can
be influenced by factors such as how a question is worded or if conversations
with other witnesses could influence how an eyewitness recalls a specific
incident were conducted in the mid-1970s by psychologists Elizabeth Loftus
and John Palmer.
In their now-classic study
Reconstruction of Automobile Destruction: An Example of the Interaction
Between Language and Memory” (Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior 13: 585 - 589 (1974)), a group of volunteers were shown movies of staged
automobile accidents and were later asked to recall what they had observed.
Their study demonstrated several surprising results, such as:
- When the volunteers were told to estimate the speed of a vehicle, their
responses strongly indicated that the way the question was worded had
an effect on their answers.
Volunteers who were asked “How fast were the cars going when they
smashed into each other?” consistently gave higher estimated speeds than
those who were asked “How fast were the cars going when they
contacted each other?” The investigators concluded that “stronger”
verbs such as “crashed” or “slammed” led to higher
estimated speeds than did “milder” verbs such as “contacted”
- The same volunteers were also asked to describe the amount and distribution
of broken glass after the vehicles “crashed” or “contacted.”
Once again, those whose questions included the “stronger”
verbs reported more broken glass over a wider area than did those who
were asked using “milder” verbs. There was, however, one surprising
None of the films shown to the volunteers contained any hint of broken glass!
Obviously, the questions’ wording “planted” the false
memory of broken glass in the volunteers’ minds!
In the above examples, it should be noted that the
longer the interval (immediately after, a few hours, or several days) from the
time of being shown the accident films to when they were questioned demonstrated
that the longest intervals produced the greatest conflicts between what
had actually been seen and what the volunteers
thought they had seen.
In “Why Science Tells Us Not to Rely on Eyewitness Accounts” (Scientific American Mind, January 2010), Hal Arkowitz, and Scott Lilienfeld begin by citing Loftus
and Palmer but also report that there are many cases where “eyewitnesses”
have been involved in tragic miscarriages of justice by citing the work
of the Innocence Project.
Innocence Project is a non-profit agency that uses modern DNA technology to establish the
guilt or innocence of convicted criminals. Since DNA evidence was first
allowed as evidence in 1989, the Innocence Project reports that there
have been 362 cases where a conviction was overturned based on DNA testing
that proved the convicted party
could not have been responsible for the crime they were alleged to have committed.
Of those who were later exonerated,
70% had been the victims of misidentification by an “eyewitness.” In our opinion, there is no reason to
believe that an “eyewitness” is more reliable in their account
of a traffic accident!
How The Doan Law Firm can help with your truck accident claim
In conclusion, we generally will tell our clients that eyewitness reports
will very rarely “tell the whole story” regarding a commercial
truck accident. At the same time, however, we also stress that truck accident
injury cases can be very complex from a legal point of view and that no
two cases can be considered to be the same.
If you were injured in a Houston-area commercial trucking accident, we
invite you to contact the commercial trucking accident injury lawyer at
The Doan Law Firm to arrange a free, no obligation, review of your case and a discussion
of the legal options that may be available to you. Should we recommend
that you file a lawsuit to recover any damages or other losses you may
have suffered, our firm is willing to assume full responsibility for preparing
your case for trial in exchange for a percentage of the final settlement
that we will win for you.
The Doan Law Firm:
1 Riverway, Suite 2325
Houston, Texas 77056