If you've spent any time reading our website, you know that investigating an accident and gathering evidence is the only way you can win a personal injury case. Not many people need to be convinced that they need evidence; with all the crime mystery and forensic shows on T.V., it's commonly understood that evidence is important in any investigation. What is less understood, though, is that timing is just as important as evidence, especially in a personal injury case.
Rather than trying to explain this through hypothetical situations or theoretical exercises, I'm going to explain this through real-life examples of cases we've worked where some clients have helped their cases by getting the timing right, and others have actually hurt their cases by waiting too long to hire a lawyer. These examples will reinforce that a prompt investigation is usually the only way to receive the necessary evidence for a successful case.
Clients who understood the importance of timing.
In a fatal work accident near Amarillo, Texas, the first accident report stated that a gentleman forgot to attach his safety harness and fell about 60 feet from a piece of heavy equipment, killing him instantly on impact. His family hired us within days of the incident, and because of this, we were able to find evidence that completely blew the lid off the case.
Here's how it happened: when we went out to the work site we brought our OSHA expert with us, and under his advisement we noticed that not all of the employees were accounted for. When we did a head count and compared it to a roster of who was supposed to be at the work site, we discovered the name of a man who was missing and went to his apartment to track him down. The man was packing to leave to Mexico. It turned out that the victim in the incident was his friend, and what he witnessed that day was so disturbing that he decided he couldn't return to work.
This witness told us that the victim was actually never given a safety harness, and in addition, the man didn't die on impact, but suffered greatly after the fall before he finally died. Even worse, instead of reporting the incident immediately after the accident, the owner went to a pawn shop, bought a harness, and placed it next to the victim's body before he called authorities so that it would appear to be the victim's fault. As you can see, the testimony from this witness was crucial evidence for the case. If the client had hired us even one or two days later, the witness would have already been in Mexico and we wouldn't have had his testimony.
In a second case, an accident happened when an 18-wheeler made a u-turn in front of two male passengers in a car, decapitating and killing one of the men instantly, and seriously injuring the other. The initial police report was actually incriminating for our clients. Even though the 18-wheeler made an unlawful u-turn in front of our clients, police stated that the area was well-lit, and that the car should have seen the 18-wheeler from far away and had plenty of time to stop.
What we actually found when we went out to the scene of the accident was that the street lights were set on a timer, and they were off at the time of the accident. When we arrived, the area was completely pitch black, but just ten minutes later, the area was well lit-up. The police just assumed that because it was lit up when they arrived, that it was also lit up at the time of the accident. In addition, we contacted the city to find out who installed the light and learned that they were just days away from replacing the lights in that area with a different kind of light that would come on based on lack of sunlight rather than by a timer.
If our client had waited a few days to hire us, the lights may have been replaced and we wouldn't have found out that the 18-wheeler actually wasn't visible at the time of the accident. Because the truck was doing a three-point turn into a church parking lot, and most of the side lights were burned out in addition to the road being pitch black, our clients had no time to stop. The presence of the 18-wheeler in the road was no less of a hazard than if a brick wall had suddenly appeared.
In a third case, we were hired by the family of a man who was killed when an 18-wheeler rolled through a stop sign in front of his path. Under normal circumstances the victim may have had time to stop, but in this particular instance it was night and there was a piece of equipment hanging off the back of the 18-wheeler that was not visible because it had no reflectors or any other indicators on it. In addition, the man driving the 18-wheeler fled the scene, later claiming that he had no idea he was even involved in an accident.
Because our clients called us immediately after the accident, we were able to be out at the scene on a Saturday after the accident happened on a Friday. Because we were able to go out at the same time that the accident happened the day before and we actually found a security guard who witnessed the accident. This man told us that the driver of the 18-wheeler actually got out of the vehicle and looked at the damage before driving off. In addition, based on the equipment the driver was carrying, we were able to find out where he was headed that morning. We spoke with someone at the place where he delivered the equipment, and they also confirmed that the driver was shaken up that morning because he knew he had caused a fatal accident.
Just a few days later, the company the security guard worked for and the company the equipment was delivered to got lawyers, and no one would speak to us anymore. If we had not been hired right after the accident, and hadn't gone out to investigate on Saturday and Sunday, the evidence we used to win the case may never have been found.
Clients who missed their chance.
Unfortunately, there are times when our clients wait too late to hire us and we aren't able to get them the compensation they deserve.
- In the first example, we were hired by a woman whose son died in a car accident. She was understandably distraught after the accident, and she waited 30 days to get us involved in the case. We did an investigation into the accident and found out that she did have a strong case, but when we contacted the defendant's insurance carrier, it was already too late. It turned out that the decedent's ex-wife had already filed a claim pretending that she was still married to the decedent. The insurance carrier didn't do the proper investigation, and there was nothing we could do to receive any compensation for our client because the ex-wife had already taken the money. As much as we wanted to sue the defendant directly, never mind his insurance policy, it simply wasn't an option. He fled the country, and has not returned.
- In a second example, a man was over-served at a bar, drove while under the influence, and caused a serious accident where he hurt our client and several other people. Our client hired us a few months after the accident happened, but other people who were injured in the accident had already hired by a different lawyer that didn't handle the case well and ended up botching the case for our client as well. After we got involved, we were still able to recover some compensation for our client's medical bills and a little bit of money for his pocket, but if the other law firm had not messed up the case, our client would have had a very significant case and been more favorably compensated.
Look at it this way. If your loved one was shot in a home invasion, you wouldn't wait until the following week to contact the police because you know that if you wait that long the evidence will be tainted, and you'd want to try to catch the suspects. The same thing applies to personal injury law. Just like a crime scene, an accident scene is full of important evidence that make promptness in the case very necessary.