When an especially serious, unusual, or fatal motor vehicle accident occurs, there is significant interest in finding out what happened. The scene of a major car accident can be an extremely busy place. Many things must occur before the site can be cleared. Tucked away behind those flashing red and blue lights, sirens, and commotion, a special team is hard at work.
Initial Accident Scene Control – Police and EMTs
First to arrive at the accident scene, police officers and emergency medical technicians (EMTs) perform an initial analysis of the situation. The job of the police is to determine if any immediate threat is present and handle any criminal activity or traffic violations, as well as to file a basic report about the facts of the accident. EMTs gauge the condition of drivers and passengers involved in the crash, provide on-site medical assistance and provide transportation to the hospital as necessary. If an individual may be deceased, the EMTs or police will contact the coroner to confirm and the police will request that evidence be collected from the scene.
One or more types of accident reconstructionists may be called to the scene on behalf of parties with an interest. These may include a commercial trucking company, law enforcement (in this case, typically referred to as a “traffic homicide investigator” or “certified accident reconstructionist”), the insurance companies of the parties involved, and your attorney. (Ideally, your attorney will be notified immediately so that an expert can be called in to inspect the scene before it is disturbed.) These individuals may be seen milling about taking photos and carefully collecting evidence. The purpose of reconstructing the accident scenario is to answer vital questions about what happened, how it happened, and why it happened.
Determining What Happened
Accident reconstruction may be performed by many types of professionals with varying levels of training and expertise. These may include anyone from law enforcement and criminal investigators to experts trained to utilize a proven scientific approach based on advanced training in fields including forensic engineering, forensic science, physics, mathematics, and other areas of advanced specialization that allow data to be collected and analyzed accurately. For reliability, it is critical to select an expert that knows exactly how to determine with absolute certainty what caused the crash to occur, how it happened, why it happened, and who was at fault.
By working backward from known facts, sufficiently skilled accident reconstructionists are able to produce a reliable report of what occurred, including the severity of the collision, the speed at which the involved vehicles were traveling, what (if any) attempts were made to avoid the collision, whether or not impact was avoidable, the presence of any mechanical defects, if laws or regulations were violated, the road, weather conditions and visibility at the time of the accident, the demeanor and behavior of those involved, and many other relevant factors, some of which may be unique to the specific incident.
Determination of Final Rest Positions of Vehicles – The vehicles involved are photographed and their precise positions documented and recorded. In some cases, a 3-D map is created with “The Pole,” an advanced piece of equipment that uses GPS and laser technology to record the scene.
Documentation of Vehicle Damage – All damage to involved vehicles is observed, photographed, and documented. If a hit-and-run occurred, paint samples can help identify the liable driver.
DNA Collection – DNA may be collected from those involved in the accident for purposes of identification.
Evidence Collection – The scene of the accident and surrounding area is thoroughly examined to locate and collect any available evidence, which may include physical materials, digital surveillance footage, photographs of the scene, tire mark analysis, law enforcement investigation reports, statements from law enforcement agents and eyewitnesses to the incident.
Collection of Black Box Data – The sensing and diagnostic module or restraint control module installed in some airbags records data which may include the status of seatbelt use, brake application, vehicle speed, and delta-v (change in velocity) prior to, and at the time of, the crash.
Preparing the Report
Based on photos, measurements, calculations, and analysis of all available data, information, and materials, the accident reconstructionist prepares a report of their findings. This report may be used to determine fault, exonerate an individual, or prepare a warrant to charge someone with a crime. Accident reconstructionists may also be called to provide their professional opinion as expert witness testimony if a case goes to trial.
The Danger of Relying on Traffic Homicide Investigator & Certified
Accident Reconstructionist Reports In High Stakes Cases
Despite the best of intentions and careful execution of their duties, some law enforcement traffic homicide investigators may have only received a few weeks or months of relevant training. Their reports may lack the level of detail required for exhaustive evaluation and scientific analysis. Consequently, these reports may be of limited value, especially when including demonstrably deficient determinations such as ‘side-slip’ speed analysis and ‘drag-tire/drag sled’ determinations. In fact, “certified accident reconstructionists” that do not possess the requisite education and skill to perform complex forensic engineering determinations have had their testimony denied in court and have been questioned by those with knowledge of the requirements involved for accuracy. While these types of reports have a place and may be suitable for minor to moderate level accidents, depending on the level of expertise of the investigator or reconstructionist they may not be appropriate for serious accidents, especially those involving fatalities.
Did You Lose a Loved On In a West Virginia Traffic Accident?
Contact Angotti & Straface Attorneys at Law
Determining exactly what happened in a motor vehicle accident involving a fatality is a complicated endeavor and it is extremely important to your claim. If you were seriously injured or lost a loved one in a tragic vehicle accident in West Virginia, contact Angotti & Straface Attorneys at Law immediately.
Reach out to us as soon as possible. Our law firm is dedicated to delivering effective legal counsel that places your interests first. We take pride in delivering attentive personalized service and attorney accessibility with a hands-on approach to every case. As West Virginia’s most aggressive law firm, we pursue the maximum possible compensation the law allows – and we do not back down. We have recovered millions for our seriously injured and wrongful death clients. You owe nothing unless we win your claim. Time is of the essence. Do not delay! Call: (304) 292-4381.