• Nathalie S. Pettit

Conducting Effective Witness Interviews

When an employee is injured on the job, witness interviews provide important information to help determine the root cause, associated costs, compliance with safety regulations, and to correctly process workers’ compensation claims.

Top 5 Tips

1. Conducted the interview as soon as possible after the incident occurs.

2. Interview each witness alone to ensure accuracy and truthfulness.

3. Explain the purpose of the investigation.

4. Listen carefully and take notes without distracting the witness. A tape recorder may be used to record the witness statements with consent of the individual.

5. Ask open-ended questions that cannot simply be answered by a “yes” or “no”.

Top 10 Questions

1. When/where did this occur?

2. Who was present when this occurred?

3. What happened? (Get a chronological, detailed description of the incident)

4. Describe the work and the conditions leading up to the incident.

5. Locate the positions the injured worker and the witness were in and identify what exactly each were doing at the time of the incident.

6. Identify whether the witness noticed anything unusual prior to the incident (i.e.; unusual sounds, odors, sights, etc.)

7. Describe the conditions (weather, time of day, equipment malfunctions, etc.) that may have contributed to the incident.

8. Identify whether the witness thinks the incident could have been prevented, and how.

9. Identify any other possible witnesses to the incident. Has the injured worker spoken with anyone about the incident? With whom? When? What was said?

10. Does the witness have any questions or is there anything the witness would like to add?

When concluding the interview, thank the witness for their time, ask the witness to keep the investigation and information provided during the interview confidential (except as required by law), and confirm that all facts, evidence and persons with potential information have been disclosed to the best of the witness’ ability.

In assessing the credibility of a witness, consider: How clear is the witness’ recollection? How realistic are the witness’ mannerisms, reactions, statements? Is there a “ring” of believability to the witness’ testimony when considered in light of everyday experience and common sense? How consistent is the witness’ story over time? Is there any indication that the witness may be biased? Does the witness have any reason to tell you something other than the truth? Is the witness interested in the outcome of the investigation? Is there a suspicious timing to the incident? Does the witness seem to have a “selective” memory? Do the witness’ statements seem “rehearsed” or “programmed”? Is the witness’ demeanor forthright and open? Is there anything about his/her demeanor that raises questions or doubts about the truth of his/her statements? Does this witness have a history of untruthfulness? Has the witness provided answers that are against his interest? Is the witness on medication or have a medical/performance history that would suggest an inability to accurately understand, recollect, or describe events?

If you find you are in need of experienced workers’ compensation defense counsel, we invite you to call the Law Office of Nathalie S. Pettit, Esq. at (808) 930-5550 or find us online at

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