by Heather M Eichenbaum Esquire
When an accident occurs, a patron complains of improper treatment or an employee lodges a complaint against your park, it is important to obtain witness statements, documenting what employees and other witnesses know about the incident or allegation.
Although an accident report may document the who, what, when and where of an incident, it generally will not record your employees’ or other patrons’ knowledge of the incident. Several issues are therefore important in obtaining an effective witness statement:
1) Obtain witness statements as quickly as possible after an accident or complaint; while memories are the most vivid, from all individuals who have any knowledge of relevance. In the case of a ride accident, obtain statements from ride operators and supervisors even if those statements are as simple as documenting that normal maintenance and checks of the ride were done before opening on that date and no problems were found and furthermore that the employees followed normal procedure in providing instructions to the patron making the complaint. Take statements from all employees working in the area, even if they say that they saw nothing. Sometimes the fact that employees in the area didn’t see anything can be significant.
2) A witness statement must contain the individual’s name, address, telephone number, date of birth and an alternative contact person’s name and address. Many a witness changes residences. This applies equally to employee witnesses – they change jobs, move away to school and otherwise become difficult to locate. Without sufficient information to locate them, your best witness may simply disappear before you even realise you need him.
3) If the statement is given as a spoken interview, ask permission and then record that interview. A digital hand-held voice recorder costs only a few dollars and will permanently record, in the witness’ own voice, the interview. This recording can be invaluable if the witness changes their story at a later date.
4) If the statement is written, make sure the witness acknowledges that the statement has been read in full and is true and correct. Have the witness initial the bottom of each page of the statement and sign at the end.
5) In the case of a handwritten statement, keep the original. We often transfer handwritten statements into a computer and then discard the original. Instead, transcribe the statement verbatim and staple a copy of it to the original handwritten version. This will eliminate any concerns regarding the accuracy of the transcription.
In summary, witness statements serve to document events when they are freshest – immediately after the alleged incident. To most effectively defend your park against complaints, it is imperative that statements be obtained quickly and thoroughly, and that those statements are properly maintained. Without statements, memories fade and, along with them, so may your defence of claims against the park.
Heather Eichenbaum is an attorney with Spector Gadon & Rosen PC, located in Philadelphia, New Jersey and Florida. Clients include Six Flags, Steel Pier, Gillian’s Wonderland, Holiday World and Reithoffer Shows. If you have questions you would like to see addressed in a future column, contact Heather at +1 215-241-8856 or firstname.lastname@example.org