Meadville Tribune

March 27, 2006

The Importance of Gathering Evidence at the scene of an Accident

by Alan Pepicelli Esq.






The Importance of Gathering Evidence at the scene of an Accident

by Alan Pepicelli Esq.



Accident cases are evaluated, won and lost depending upon the quality, strengths, and weaknesses of the evidence supporting the client’s claim. Under the law, the burden of proof is always upon the injured party to demonstrate by a preponderance of the evidence, first, that the injury was caused as the result of the negligence of another person, and secondly, the extent of damages sustained as the result of such injury.



Often, by the time a client seeks legal assistance, valuable evidence has been disposed of or has otherwise disappeared; witnesses have been overlooked or have been first approached by the other side; and important facts have been lost.



The purpose of this article is to focus upon some preliminary considerations to assure the preservation of valuable evidence which may be critical in the ultimate pursuit of a claim.



I. OBTAINING BASIC INFORMATION:



The Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Code specifically requires notification to the nearest police department in the event of any accident which involves injury or death to any person, or damage to any vehicle of such extent that it cannot be driven. Consequently, it is critical to notify the local police department if possible, prior to leaving the scene of the accident, in the event that any injury is suspected.



The Vehicle Code further provides that parties to every accident exchange basic information including name, address, registration number of the vehicle, insurance information, and exhibit their driver’s license upon request. It is generally advisable, in addition to any statutory requirements, to obtain the following general information at the scene of the accident, or as soon thereafter as is reasonable:

Other operator’s full name, address and telephone number.

Other operator’s date of birth.

Other operator’s driver’s license number.

Other vehicle owner’s full name, address and telephone number.

Other vehicle owner’s insurance company and policy number.

License plate number of other vehicle.

Make, model and year of other vehicle.

Full name, address and telephone number of any witnesses.



Obtaining such information is important, in order that such persons may be contacted at a later date.



II. OBTAINING PHOTOGRAPHS OF THE SCENE:



I advise clients to keep in their glove box a disposable camera, in case they are involved in an accident. These cameras are inexpensive, take reasonably decent photographs, and may provide vital information, in the event of a crash, such as position of the vehicles after the accident, location of accident debris, skid marks or gouge marks in the pavement. Obviously, photographs should only be taken if it is safe to do so.



In the event that it is impossible to obtain photographs immediately following the accident, or prior to removal of the vehicles from the scene, it is nonetheless important, as soon thereafter as is reasonably practical, to take scene photographs depicting the location of any known skid marks, gouge marks, sign, guard rail, or tree damage, as well as the topography of the roadway, curves, gradient, dividing lines, fog lines, sight distance, etc., leading up to the place of the crash, taken from both directions.



III. OBTAINING PHOTOGRAPHS OF VEHICLES:



Following an accident, vehicles are generally removed and taken to a repair facility, or, in the event of a total loss, to any one of several local storage facilities, where they remain for a short period of time. Thereafter, because of cost considerations, insurance companies remove the vehicles to regional facilities to be destroyed or sold as scrap. It is critical, as soon as is reasonably possible following an accident, to obtain multiple photographs of each of the vehicles involved, depicting the extent of vehicle damage (inside and out). Such photographs may subsequently prove extremely helpful for the purpose of establishing the nature of the accident, the mechanism of injury, and the magnitude of the crash.





The Importance of Gathering Evidence at the Scene of An Accident

by Alan Pepicelli Esq.



Part Two



IV. TAKING PHOTOS OF VISIBLE INJURIES:



Many times after an accident, an injured party will exhibit significant swelling, bruising, cuts, or other deformities over various portions of their body. In more serious cases, they may be placed in an immobilizing device, a fixation device, a cast, or confined to a bed. The importance of securing photographic evidence during these early stages, visually depicting what the person is experiencing, cannot be overemphasized.

cases, a site survey and accident reconstruction may be warranted.



In any serious case, the vehicles should not be repaired or disposed of without consideration as to whether the vehicles should first be examined by an appropriate expert to establish such things as angle and point of impact, velocity of the respective vehicles, possible vehicle failure, etc. Many vehicles today are equipped with computerized sensory modules such as the SDM (Sensing and Diagnostic Module) utilized by GM in conjunction with the deployment of air bags. In many vehicles, these small controllers, which are similar to the “black box” in an airplane, record and store several seconds of data from immediately prior to the crash, through the time of the crash. Pre-crash data includes such information as vehicle speed, engine RPM, brake engagement; post-crash data includes such things as velocity change during impact (ie. crash severity). In many cases it is possible, with certain types of vehicles, to download this information for ultimate data interpretation.



As referenced above, because vehicles tend to quickly disappear following an accident, it may be critical, in certain cases, to secure the vehicle until it is examined by a qualified expert.



Once the vehicle is gone, it may be gone forever, along with valuable evidence.





V. SERIOUS ACCIDENT CASES - SPECIAL CONSIDERATIONS:



Unfortunately, sometimes injuries which do not require immediate hospitalization, or which do not otherwise initially appear serious, may ultimately lead to chronic pain, substantial medical treatment and possible surgery. Consequently it may not be foreseeable within the days or weeks following an accident, that an injury is of sufficient magnitude as to warrant a formal exhaustive investigation. Most practitioners agree that, when in doubt, it is better practice to have a formal investigation performed, including taking additional photographs and measurements at the scene and obtaining taped statements from any known witnesses and from the other party, when possible. In very serious cases, a site survey and accident reconstruction may be warranted.



In any serious case, the vehicles should not be repaired or disposed of without consideration as to whether the vehicles should first be examined by an appropriate expert to establish such things as angle and point of impact, velocity of the respective vehicles, possible vehicle failure, etc. Many vehicles today are equipped with computerized sensory modules such as the SDM (Sensing and Diagnostic Module) utilized by GM in conjunction with the deployment of air bags. In many vehicles, these small controllers, which are similar to the “black box” in an airplane, record and store several seconds of data from immediately prior to the crash, through the time of the crash. Pre-crash data includes such information as vehicle speed, engine RPM, brake engagement; post-crash data includes such things as velocity change during impact (ie. crash severity). In many cases it is possible, with certain types of vehicles, to download this information for ultimate data interpretation.



As referenced above, because vehicles tend to quickly disappear following an accident, it may be critical, in certain cases, to secure the vehicle until it is examined by a qualified expert.



Once the vehicle is gone, it may be gone forever, along with valuable evidence.



VI. CONCLUSION:



There is a limited amount of time following an accident in which to collect and preserve evidence. Simply preserving such evidence does not necessarily mean that you will opt to pursue a claim. Whether you ultimately choose to do so will, in all likelihood, be dependent upon the nature and severity of any injury sustained, and how quickly you recover. By taking appropriate precautionary measures, however, you will assure that the evidence is available in the event that it is subsequently needed.