Can’t Find Your Client? A Witness? or the Defect?? 5 Proactive Steps to Avoid These Problems

Every attorney has his/her own intake survey (generally varying by incident type) and method of working a case.  Investigators in the field also have their own methodology that intends to synch with the attorney’s needs. Below are several situations that our investigators have encountered in the field, and recommendations based on these incidents.

1. Your client’s emergency contacts.

Situation: On numerous occasions we’ve had to locate a client who has moved without notifying his/her attorney.

Recommendation:  Obtain the complete contact information (phone, address, email)  of at least 2 relatives and 2 friends NOT living with the client.  Drilling deeper,  obtain the DOBs of the emergency contacts.  This may appear to be a rather aggressive suggestion but,  at least 2 of these 4 contacts should be over 25 years old. Generally, adults above 25 years of age are employed and therefore, more easily trackable than those younger or retired.

2.  The witnesses.

Situation: I’m sure you’ve all seen a PAR (Police Accident Report) w/a witness listed as “Johnny, 917-555-1234”. (or same, similarly incomplete police report).   No address, no surname and a cell phone that may or may not be active in 2 weeks, let alone 2 years.

Recommendation(s):  1. Call “Johnny” immediately.  Obviously,  the first objective is to determine his knowledge of events regarding your client’s matter.  2. Obtain his full contact information (add’l phone number, address, email) and an identifier, (We suggest a DOB.  Many people are reluctant to release their SSN.)  3. Obtain an emergency contact for him.   4.  Check the contact info every 4 -6  months until the case resolves.

3. Professional photographs of the accident scene, especially if citing defect or disrepair. 

Situation:   Several years ago, we had an exterior premises trip and fall situation wherein we were called to investigate the scene approximately 4 months post-incident.  The injured person made several natural and unintentional mistakes: 1. Not realizing the extent of his injuries, he did not call 911.  There were no on-site witnesses and no responder witnesses, and  2. When he returned a week or so later, after receiving medical attention, he’d taken photos of the accident scene but the shots contained shadows running across the defect rendering it difficult to determine the exact nature and severity of the  defect.   He was to go back and re-shoot the scene but did not.  4 months later, no defect, no repair record.  The building owner would not disclose any defects and neighbors may be non-cooperative, especially if they too are tenants of the same landlord.

Recommendation: Send out a professional to photograph the accident scene ASAP.  Don’t expect the client to have useable photos or to return to the location of occurrence and accurately record the scene.  Bear in mind, however, that the defect may have permanently “disappeared” and there may not always be a repair record.

4.  If it seems weird; it probably is.  Check all possible contributory factors.

Situation:  Claimant fell UP the stairs.  She wasn’t carrying bags, wore flat shoes; no drugs or alcohol were involved.  No defects, liquids or debris on the ground.

Recommendation: Measure everything.  After taking detailed step and rail measurements, we realized that a) the steps were unequally sized – from the height between them to the protruding lip of each step (which was excessive at the point where she was caused to trip) and b) the rail would have been out of reach from her position regardless, with no secondary wall rail in place.   Rarely do people slip, trip or fall for no reason (unless there is an underlying medical condition).

5. Always check to see if drugs and alcohol were involved. (Defense)

Situation:  Building maintenance crew member claims to have fallen off of a defective ladder.  The ACR showed extremely high bp readings; 3 taken at 15 minute intervals by responding EMS – well above the readings that would be expected even in a  such a stressful situation.

Recommendation: Check the medical history.  The individual was on Lipitor and had not taken his medication as prescribed for several days before his fall.  (He’d also commented to several co-workers earlier on the day of incident that he was feeling “dizzy”.)  There was absolutely nothing wrong with the ladder, the area surrounding it, nor was he working at a height requiring specialized safety equipment.

BNI Operatives: Situationally aware.

As always, stay safe.

Report/Don’t Report A Vehicular Accident? Know Your State’s Rules.

car crash2

by Louis C. Amen (Ret., Highway Accident Investigation Squad Detective, NYPD)

Car accidents can and will happen to even the best of drivers.  You may be driving in accordance with the rules of the road but another driver may not, thereby triggering a chain of events that ends in a vehicular collision.

Civilians are responsible for reporting accidents* either to a police officer at the accident scene or to their state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) central office.  Is there a central source of reporting information by state online?

Yes. We recommend a private site: DMV.org, to determine contact and forms information and then access any state’s DMV via links to the agency’s services such as obtaining one’s driver’s abstract, re-registering a vehicle, obtaining accident reporting forms, etc. (For example: If you wish to report a vehicular accident directly to the DMV in Alabama, select Alabama as the state of inquiry, and DMV.org will redirect you to the crash report request form).

*Depending on your states rules and regulations. See below.

Is is mandatory to report a vehicular accident?

1. Personal injury/property damage not involved: Possibly. The requirement to report a vehicular accident is based on the individual state’s directives regarding collision reporting and the necessity is generally based on the vehicle damage estimate. E.g., in NYS, it is not necessary (although allowed) to report an accident in which the projected cost of damage is less than $1,001.00.

2. Personal injury/property damage (excluding vehicle) involved. Yes.  A report of the crash incident is required in all states, when personal injury has occurred to any parties involved, including pedestrians, bicyclists and others absent participation in the original vehicular collision.

What information should I obtain at an accident scene wherein police were not notified?

From the driver involved:

  • Driver’s full name and current and policy address
  • Registrant information – name and current and policy address
  • Insurance information, including insurance company name and code, policy number and policy period
  • Telephone number(s) of all involved
  • Email information or all involved
  • Emergency or “other notification” contact information for all involved
  • Name and contact information for all vehicle occupants, others involved in the collision and witnesses.
  • Photos (to include full vehicle and areas of damage shots, of the parties involved and relevant ground markings and street signs and traffic devices that may be present at the location, to include but not limited to traffic lights, traffic signs, crossing guards…)

What are the relevant traffic accident forms I may need? (Using NYS as an example.) 

If an involved party is required or desires to submit vehicular accident reports as, for example, required by your auto insurance carrier, the following documents may be necessary:

  • Traffic accident report form
  • Witness statements
  • Liability release
  • Waiver of financial responsibility

– If you are in an accident in NY involving only property damage, New York State Vehicle and Traffic Law requires you to stop and exchange information with the involved drivers.

– If a parked vehicle or other property is damaged, or a domestic animal is injured, you must locate the owner or contact the police.

Important facts regarding vehicular collisions in New York State (yes, this includes, New York City):

  • If property damage of any person is $1,001 or more all the involved drivers are required by the NYS Vehicle and Traffic Law to file a Report (MV 104).
  • If the report is required per the above criterium, then said report must be submitted to the NYS DMV within 10 days post-incident.
  • DMV can suspend your driver’s license if you fail to report an accident.
  • If person is injured or killed, you are required by the NYS Vehicle and Traffic Law to immediately report the collision to the police and you may not leave the scene unless directed by police.
  • It is a crime to leave the scene of an accident that causes personal injury or death.
  • The DMV does make or assist in liability determination of a vehicular accident.

How do I obtain a copy of an accident report form?

  • You can obtain the form online – again, we suggest you use the DMV.org site.
  • Go in person to the local police agency and or precinct where accident occurred and request a blank form and instructions.

I realize that people are understandably upset and distracted when a collision occurs.  By remaining as calm as possible and employing basic common sense, you should be able to arrive at a decision based on the facts before you in determining whether to report an accident on scene or privately afterwards.  When in doubt, or substantial property damage and or injuries are involved, call 911.

BNI Operatives: Street smart; info savvy.

As always, stay safe.