When you receive a new claim and notice there were passengers in one or more of the vehicles, what are your best practices? Do you talk to the passengers, take statements, or ask the driver about them? Do you dismiss their presence with the assumption that only biased information will be provided by them?
Arbitrators are required to consider all the evidence submitted. It is up to them to determine if the evidence supports the arguments or falls short. If a passenger statement corroborates the driver's story, that constitutes additional support. It is also up to the arbitrator to determine how much weight is placed on the evidence. A supporting passenger statement may receive less weight than an independent witness statement or it may be given more, depending on what questions were asked and how the passenger responded.
We all know that there is limited time when investigating claims. For our members, a decision must be made between trying to contact everyone involved in an accident, just the drivers, or some common ground between. If your claim is word versus word, in which each driver claims to have had the right-of-way, the police report is inconclusive, and there are no independent witnesses, a passenger statement may be enough to tilt the arbitrator decision scales in your favor, again, depending on the questions asked and the answers provided.
The evidence will be considered in terms of relevance and credibility. In other terms, is it pertinent to the accident and believable? If the passenger was in one of the vehicles involved in the accident, the information should relate to the accident, hence relevance. Credibility is a higher hurdle to maneuver. Questions of bias naturally arise based on an expectation that the passenger knows the car's driver and may provide only information that will benefit the driver. This is where the arbitrator's experience comes into play, interpreting the answers given by the passenger to determine how and if the information fits with the other evidence submitted. The arbitrator will not dismiss the passenger's statement out of hand but will read, consider, and weigh it to determine what value it brings to that party's position.
Article published in: December 2016 E-Bulletin