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Wednesday, January 4, 2023

10 Tips for Photographing the Scene of an Accident

 By Catherine Powell

Image courtesy Pixabay

They say a picture is worth a thousand words.  In the insurance industry it can be worth a thousand dollars or much more.  When it comes to filing an insurance claim, the devil is in the details.  Forget to fill in the blanks and you risk getting less than you expect or you can have a claim denied.  Providing your insurance company with everything it needs to properly assess the damage and  process your claim can be simple or it can be complicated.  Fortunately, every consumer carries a device that makes claims processing a snap.  I'm talking about your smartphone.  In this week's blog I'll tell you what you need to know when it comes to documenting a car accident claim with photographs.

#1: Document the destruction. - Being involved in a traffic accident is always traumatic.  Even a fender bender can ruin your day.  But what can be even worse is not getting what you deserve when the insurance companies settle your claim. To avoid that possibility, it's vital that you capture the scene as soon as safely possible.  Everything from the damage done to the position of the vehicles in the road immediately following an accident can help you document what happened and who is at fault.  If you were hurt in the crash, ask anyone in your vehicle who wasn't to use your smartphone to document the scene, as well as any injuries you or the other parties received.  This way if you're ever called into court to testify, you can back up your testimony with photographic evidence.  

#2: Make sure the scene is well lit. - While natural light is always best, if the accident happens at night or in a place that's not well illuminated, feel free to use your phone's flash.  Bearing that in mind, using the flash can alter the details of a photograph.  To avoid this, turn the flash off and take another shot from the same angle.  Since this exposure will be longer than when using a flash, make sure you hold the phone as steady as possible.

#3: Time for your closeups? - That depends.  While it's always a good idea to take closeups of physical injuries like scars and bruises, you also need to snap a few shots from several feet away to give the closeups some kind of scale.  The same thing goes for damage to any vehicles involved in the accident. Stepping back to take some shots from 10-feet away can give an insurance investigator some idea as to the scope of the damage.  

#4: Box the compass. - Do a walk-around of all the vehicles involved in the accident.  Taking photos of all four sides will help paint a better picture as to who caused the wreck. Don't make the mistake of taking all your shots with the phone held vertically since this will limit the width of the shots.  Wide angle shots reveal much more depth of field that can later help you prove your case.  Closeups taken with the phone held vertically are better at showing minute details of vertical damage.

#5: Don't crop the photo. - Did you ever have someone show you a photograph where the photographer accidentally cut the heads off someone in the scene?  You don't want to do this when it comes to accident damage.  Always make sure you take shots that not only show the scratches, dents and paint transfer caused by the accident, pull back far enough during the shot so you reveal where the damage begins and ends.  

#6: Making the scene. - Nature abhors a vacuum and so do claims adjusters.  As well as documenting any damage done to your vehicle, you need to take the time to photograph anything relevant to the accident.  This should include such things as tire skid marks, broken glass, debris lying in the road, traffic signals and signs, as well as any signs of inclement weather like rain puddles or snow.  The scene contains a lot of details that are crucial in proving not only who but what caused the accident.  If you leave these details out, you could later wind up being charged with more culpability for the crash than you feel you deserve.

#7: Document any pertinent documents. - Instead of merely jotting down the other drivers license and insurance information, take photos of these as well as the license plate on the back of any vehicles involved in the accident.  Not only will this make it impossible to transpose any information you write down, but it will also make it that much easier for an insurance adjuster to read.  (I don't know about you, but it practically takes a translator to read my handwritten notes.)

#8:  To edit, or not to edit? That is the question.  - While you can feel free to delete any shots that were out of focus, ill-lit, or otherwise impossible to make out, the last thing you want to do is to enhance or amend any of the photos you took.  Since it's all too easy to use Photoshop or some other photo editing software to alter evidence these days, it's possible that your shots could wind up being checked by a forensic evidence technician.  If your shots are found to have been doctored, your evidence could be called into question or even thrown out of court.  

#9: How much is too much? - When it comes to documenting a car crash, there's no such thing as too many photographs.  While you may later be accused of being snap happy, it's better to get as many photos of every aspect of the scene while the getting is good.  Once the vehicles are towed away or even moved to the side of the road, you could wind up in a situation where your word is called into question regarding the details of the collision.  When the police or an insurance adjuster later asks you a question, having a photo that proves your point is better than trying to describe the scene from memory.

#10:  Backup your photos. - Now that you have ironclad evidence of the scene, the last thing you want to do is lose your smartphone or have the photos accidentally deleted.  Should either one occur, you could not only wind up losing the evidence, you could wind up losing your claim or any court case that results from the accident.  This means you need to backup all your photos on a flashdrive or in the cloud immediately after you finish taking them.    

Catherine Powell is the owner of A Plus All Florida Insurance in Orange Park, Florida. To find out more about saving money on all your insurance needs, check out her website at

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