The proper way for an attorney to investigate a car accident case:
A couple of weeks ago our firm was contacted by the family of a man who was killed while trying to cross a street. His family lived out of state and the only thing they could learn about the accident was what was described in the news and that which came from the police report. According to both of these sources the victim walked out into traffic at night, and effectively killed himself. His family felt that this was unlike him and they were highly skeptical that that happened, so they hired us to look into the matter.
Over a period of weeks, we were able to visit the accident scene, identify and speak to friends of the driver that struck the man, post a notice on a public website asking for witnesses to come forward, and ultimately we were able to speak with an eyewitness. What we learned is that th police simply got it all wrong. The man was in a crosswalk and had the right of way at the time of the accident and the driver who hit him was speeding and had been drinking mere minutes before the accident happened. Naturally, this took the case in an entirely new direction.
The takeaway from this is that the only reasonable approach for an attorney to take in a car accident case is to first conduct an investigation of their own. While this is an extreme example, we see on a regular basis police reports that are inaccurate and other such administrative errors that lead people to improper conclusions about car accidents. Consequently, our firm never takes anything at face value and if something doesn't pass the smell test we will investigate on our own.
This leads to an important question. How should a car accident investigation be conducted? In this article the Texas car accident attorneys of Grossman Law offices are going to explain the right way to conduct a car accident investigation.
What we're looking for:
Never in the history of the law has anyone bee successful arguing a case without evidence. Whether it's a work injury, car accident, or truck accident case, we need evidence. But what kinds of evidence are we looking for? The most holistic approach an attorney can take is to think of all the different parts of the case and simply take inventory. Once all that information is gathered the narrative will start to emerge. Here's what we look for:
Details of the scene:
- What type of pavement was the road consisted of?
Different road pavements have different grip properties. These all depend on the type of aggregate used, the temperature, and of course, if there is any moisture (rain or ice) on the surface of the pavement. Concrete, asphalt, or a combination of the two can determine how well you stop and turn, especially in razor thin accident conditions where every square inch of pavement is precious.
- What was the road the road configuration?
If the road is configured in an S-curve or hairpin turn, the level of driving skill needed increases, therefore, demanding an increased level of proper road conditions for safety. Also, there are likely visual obstructions involved in navigating an S-curve or hairpin type of turn. The road might have been an intersection, 2-lane highway, or one-way road as well. Each road configuration presents a whole different set of responsibilities that a driver must prioritize.
- Was it light out or dark?
This may seem obvious to you, however, this a condition that plays a large part in who may or may not be liable for an accident. Perhaps the driver that struck you did not have their headlights on or one of them was not operational. Maybe at the scene of your accident there was a street lamp out that made that section of the road particularly hazardous. If there was light, where was it coming from?
- Was there any debris on the road?
I'm sure throughout your driving experience you've had to swerve out of the way of a box that fell off the back of a pickup-truck or dodged a semi-truck tire in your lane. Well, there are other hazards such as sand, car fluids (oil, radiator fluid), and even car parts that can end up causing an accident. Remember, not everyone looks after their vehicle like you do and an old rusty muffler falling off of a 1992 Saturn is not a rare occurrence.
- What are the road signs in and around the accident scene?
Signs are there to inform you and the drivers around you. Disobeying these signs are extremely dangerous. Perhaps the driver that hit you failed to obey a stop sign, or didn't notice that the intersection that he or she turned onto was a one way and struck you head on. Taking inventory of the signs in the accident area help us to get a better picture of what may have influenced the movement or lack thereof, of each driver.
- What direction were the vehicles involved traveling?
Were you both travelling in the same direction? Was it a two-way street? Were you merging onto the highway? These are all questions we must answer because it plays a significant role in our investigation of your accident. In our experience, many of the accide
- What is the condition of the markings on the road's surface
Unfortunately, not all roads are alike. There are roads that are neglected, which can be dangerous. Line markings help to keep everyone in their lane and indicate hazards, such as a gravel shoulder. If these lane markings are noticeable faded this can have an impact on your case.
- Are there nearby businesses, residences, or public resources that may have video recorded the accident?
This is an obvious element that many investigators can overlook. Sure, there are traffic cameras, but what about nearby businesses or apartment complexes? They may have video recordings of your accident from another angle, that might help you.
- What was the weather like?
If it was snowing or raining, this will have an impact on your vision while driving, also, it can impact the gripping ability of your tires. If the driver that struck you was traveling too fast for conditions, that is another fact that could help your case. Sure, a speed limit is a speed limit, but you're not likely to drive 70 mph in an ice storm, even if the speed limit is indicated as such.
- Have other accidents taken place at this location?
There may be a bigger trend that your accident is a part of. If there is a certain intersection that notably causes many more accidents than comparable intersections around it, then there is a larger issue of signage or maybe speed limits that need to be addressed. This isn't an excuse for the person who hit you to have be denied liability of course. There may be long ignored dangers that the city has ignored that contributed to your accident.
The vehicles involved:
- What type of car was everyone driving? Do the cars appear outwardly to be in good working order (proper maintenance, falling apart)?
- Did any of the vehicles have warning lights (check engine, ABS etc)? What the condition of the tires of each vehicle?
- Do the vehicles have damage unrelated to this accident (prior damage?)?
- What does the extent of the damage or the location of the damage on the vehicle indicate about the accident?
- Where are the vehicles located now?
- Were there any open recalls or known factory defects present in any of the vehicles?
People involved in the accident:
- What are the names of all the drivers? What are the names of all the passengers? What is the driving history of the drivers (speeding tickets, DUIs etc.)?
- Are there any medical conditions that any of the people are being treated for by a doctor? Who was sitting where and in what vehicle?
- Where were they go to? Where were they coming from?
- Were there any eyewitnesses to the accident? Who has talked to the insurance carriers or police, and what did they say?
- Is there anyone else that the people involved have talked to about the accident?
We actually get out from behind our desks
Grossman Law Offices isn't your typical law firm. We will do anything we can to make sure that we get the facts of your accident right. Typically, our attorneys can conduct their own investigation using over 25 years of experience to put together your accident. We'll go to the accident site, we'll talk to every person that we think may have witnessed the accident, we'll even reconstruct the accident.
If the accident goes beyond our attorney's investigative skills, we can call an expert. Our accident analysts are the best in their field and have opinions that are respected in the court room. We can even analyze the damage to you and the vehicle that hit you inch-by-inch to verify the role physics had to play in your injury.
Often, the most critical stage is the initial investigation.
Within moments after a car accident, evidence begins to disappear. Witnesses leave the scene, the cars are moved, and roadway conditions begin to get repaired. Thankfully, police usually arrive on the scene within minutes and observe what's happened, but in serious accidents, we want to do the following as soon as possible:
- Get every shred of evidence the authorities have. Police reports are essential to car accident cases, but are only the start. We want the police officer's notes, police photographs, and if we can, talk to the officer about what he saw. Further, increasingly, there are surveillance cameras for roadways and at private businesses that we can subpoena. Additionally, we may be able to get evidence from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission for potential dram shop claims.
- Speak to witnesses. There are usually neutral third parties who saw your accident, like pedestrians and other motorists, who could shed some light on exactly what happened. We do informal interviews with these individuals to check out their stories.
- Do our own on-site inspection. We often send accident reconstructionist experts to go take measurements, pictures, and samples from the scene. They can then perform their own analysis to determine how the other driver was at fault. This is especially useful when the police report isn't favorable to you.
Once the initial phase is over, the investigation must continue.
Often enough, the first pieces of evidence are not themselves the be-all end-all of the case. Rather, they lead us to other sources which can help win your case. For example, in the first set of interviews, we might find a witness who heard the driver who hit you admit he was drinking prior to the incident at a local bar. We then immediately send a "spoliation notice" to the bar to preserve any evidence they have of the driver being present there and drinking. Or, we might find out that the other driver's car was taken to a particular car lot for destruction---we'll obviously want to either put a stop to that or take extensive pictures of the vehicle for use at trial.
But once the lawsuit process has truly begun, we're allowed to put the other driver under oath at what's called a deposition. There, the other driver must honestly answer any questions that we have about your accident, what he did, and what he saw. If he refuses, a judge will compel him to answer and possibly sanction him. If he lies, he could be charged with perjury.
We'll investigate every angle in your car accident case.
The longer you wait, the greater chance your case has of losing because we won't be able to find the necessary evidence to prove your case. If you or a loved one were in a serious car accident, you owe it to yourself and your family to call us at (855) 326-0000 now for help.
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