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Did You See that Car Accident? What Bystanders Can Do

There are over 250,000 car crashes every year in BC, over half of which occurred in the lower mainland, according to data from ICBC. Given these numbers, there’s a good chance you have or will be a witness to a car accident at some point.

While thankfully many car accidents involve only minor damage to vehicles and do not injure the drivers and passengers involved, there are also instances where serious personal injury occurs. A bystander can play a helpful role in these circumstances by mitigating the loss to those harmed in the crash.

You cannot assume that another witness will take responsibility to help the injured victim(s) or has already called 911. There is a risk of the “bystander effect” when several individuals witness an accident. Also, there are no legal consequences for failing to help.

The bystander effect is a well-documented psychological phenomenon which shows the more people that are present, the less likely any will help. A study of bystander experiences at and after motor vehicle accidents similarly found that the one’s willingness to help depends on other factors, such as one’s sense of moral responsibility, the weighed cost of helping, the nature of the emergency, the severity of the injury and the perceived ability to help. It may be psychologically difficult to help when a tragedy suddenly occurs but you may feel worse later if you took no action.

What to Do When You Witness a Car Accident 

The first, and most important thing, to do when witnessing a car accident is ensure your safety and the safety of those around you. This means taking care not to run out suddenly on a busy road or highway and to be aware of your vulnerability to also being struck in an accident.

If you have access to a phone, call 911. Offer the location of the accident, number of vehicles involve and number of individuals inside each of those vehicles.

If it is safe to do so, you may approach the vehicles. It is also important to ensure the vehicles are stabilized by asking the drivers to put the impacted vehicles into park and turning off the ignition.

If possible, help the individual(s) by providing first aid until the ambulance attendants arrive and take over. In the meantime, check for breathing and a pulse if you are uncertain. Do not move someone who is injured (especially if he or she has a possible neck or back injury) unless there is a risk of fire or other injury developing. If there is an extensive open wound, apply pressure to the area using a clean cloth.

If you provide medical first aid, BC’s Good Samaritan Act provides you with protection against liability. Section 1 of this Act states:
“A person who renders emergency medical services or aid to an ill, injured or unconscious person, at the immediate scene of an accident or emergency that has caused the illness, injury or unconsciousness, is not liable for damages for injury to or death of that person caused by the person's act or omission in rendering the medical services or aid unless that person is grossly negligent.”

Gross negligence has been defined by the courts as a very high degree of negligence and is proven only in cases of major disregard for another individual. If you are helping in good faith, this law will likely protect you even if you inadvertently cause an injury.

Be sure to stay at the scene until first responders arrive and follow their directions. You may be able to assist the police, firefighters or ambulance service in some way. The police will likely ask for a witness statement as well. This statement can be quite critical for the injured victim’s claim.

You can also help by taking photos of the accident scene, vehicles and visible injuries and sending them to the injured party. Offering to call a victim’s family or lend your cell phone further entails going the extra mile.

Witness Statement 

The police will arrive to gather the relevant factors of the case. The police may ask you to provide your name, contact information and seek details of what occurred as a witness. Be clear, calm and truthful. Although nearly all cases settle out of court, you may be contacted in the future by legal and medical authorities about what you saw.

Where liability is disputed, witness evidence can be very helpful to the insurance company and potentially judge in determining just what happened. A witness will be able to provide evidence from a perspective other than the drivers involved in the collision. Since a witness generally will have no stake in the determination of the liability, the evidence given may be considered more objective and prove very helpful in assessing how the car crash occurred. 

For a Car Accident Lawyer in Vancouver BC and Surrounding Areas, Contact Kenneth Cristall Law Corporation

If you or a loved one have been injured in an ICBC car accident in Vancouver, Richmond, Burnaby, Langley, Surrey, Coquitlam or New Westminster, a car accident lawyer at our law firm can provide a free consultation. We deal exclusively with personal injury cases, primarily car accidents, and we help victims obtain the compensation they deserve. Call us today at 604-654-2250.

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