The Importance of an Early and Thorough Investigation.

–By Les Brock–

Often times I am contacted by an injured claimant months or even a year after an accident. While the statute of limitations in Virginia for personal injury claims is two (2) years, that does not mean you should wait before contacting an attorney or pursuing your case. As time goes by, evidence gets lost, witnesses disappear, and memories fade. The importance of an early and thorough investigation by an attorney cannot be overstated. It could be the difference between winning and losing your case.

I just recently wrapped up a settlement in a case where a young child was struck by a car while attempting to cross the street. Fortunately it was a glancing blow and the child made a full recovery. The mother had recently been told by another attorney that they did not have a good case. The driver was not cited for any wrongdoing and the police report stated the child ran into the street in front of the vehicle. The child’s mother contacted me for a second opinion at the urging of a mutual friend.

After agreeing to take on the case, I interviewed the officer who responded to the accident scene and prepared the police report. The officer said the child was playing with a friend and unexpectedly ran into the street in front of the passing car. I asked the officer where he got this information, because I was not aware of the existence of a second child, and the officer said it must have been the driver who told him that because there were no other witnesses.

I immediately issued formal requests to the City to obtain any 911 recordings. I also requested footage from the officer’s body worn camera. In the 911 call, the driver told the operator that the child had been riding his bike. However, voices could be heard in the background telling the driver there was no bike. Bingo! That suggested two things – first, that the driver never saw the child before she hit him; and second, that there were other witnesses who were at the scene shortly after the accident and who likely have more information. I located one of the witnesses – a neighbor who lived nearby and was working in his front yard at the time of the accident because he was getting ready to put his house up for sale. The neighbor said he saw the child pass by his house just moments before the accident. Importantly, this witness said the child was alone (there was no second child who he was playing with) and he was walking on the sidewalk at a normal pace (not running and certainly not riding a bike). The neighbor heard the crash at the end of his street and ran there immediately. He offered what assistance he could and stayed at the scene.  Incredibly, the police never interviewed him.

I then received the officer’s body worn camera footage, which helped piece together the case. The video footage showed every interaction the officer had at the scene, and nobody ever told the officer that the child ran into the street or that he was playing with another child. In fact, the driver told the officer she never saw the child and that he must have just stepped off the sidewalk. It was obvious the officer jumped to the conclusion that the child ran into the street, and you could hear the officer spreading that misinformation to other officers as they arrived at the scene after him. Although the body cam footage showed several people standing around the scene, the officers never spoke to any of them to identify any witnesses.

I also went to the scene of the accident myself and took numerous photographs and videos showing the viewpoint of the driver as she approached the intersection. This street is unusually wide because there is street parking along one side. However, I confirmed with witnesses and the body cam that there were no vehicles parked along the street when the accident happened. This means the driver essentially had a double-wide lane, and this suggested the child did not just step off the curb and get struck. Rather, given how wide the road is, the child likely took several steps into the roadway before he was in the path of the vehicle. The photos and video clearly illustrated that the intersection was highly visible with no obstructions to the driver’s field of vision, and so there was little excuse for not seeing the child crossing the street.

There are several key lessons here. First, you can never make assumptions or rely on someone else’s investigation, not even a police investigation. Second, an independent, thorough investigation should be conducted as soon as possible after the accident. In this case, the neighbor was a critical witness. When I spoke with him, the incident was so fresh in his memory he could remember the color and type clothing the child was wearing. I also learned the witness was in the process of moving, so I was able to get his new contact information. If we had not contacted before he moved, we may never have located him. The officer’s body camera footage was also key evidence. Many localities only keep body camera footage for six months unless there is a pending criminal investigation. Here, there was no criminal charge or investigation, and so that evidence might have been lost forever if it had not been timely secured.

Based on the results of our factual investigation, we were able to present a very compelling case against the driver supported by 911 recordings, eyewitness statements, photographs of the intersection, and body worn camera footage. The driver’s insurance company quickly agreed to pay its policy limits to settle the case out of court.

If you have been injured in an accident, do not delay calling an attorney. Don’t let the evidence in your case go cold or even worse, get lost or destroyed. Call Merrick Brock today at 804-500-9796 and let us get started on your case.

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