In any car accident case, the accident scene itself is often the single best source for objective information about the case, particularly in its early stages. For this reason, undertaking a thorough, professional investigation as soon as possible is vital in locating and preserving critical evidence. This article compiles some useful strategies for performing such accident scene investigations.
Use Maps and News Media
As an initial matter, counsel should locate the accident site by using a road map, Mapquest, Google Earth/Maps, or a similar source to establish initial familiarity with the scene. News media should be scanned thoroughly as such websites will report the accident site and provide a link to the specific location with news coverage of the recent accident, as well as other influential information like photographs and potential witnesses.
Take Aerial Photographs
Aerial photographs on google earth can extend back several years pre-accident and will show how an accident scene looked before, close to, and after the time of subject accident. Since an accident site will undoubtedly be measured and marked by the investigating police, it is essential that you obtain aerial photographs of the accident site as soon as possible.
If suitable photographs are not publicly available, one can engage an aerial photographer with professional camera equipment from the side window of an airplane, particularly on larger cases where the costs are easily justified. The ideal first choice involves an “aerial photographer”.
Using a megapixel SLR camera with wide and telephoto zoom lens and taking accident site photos from a helicopter. An alternative is an “aerial surveyor” using a digital mapping camera from the belly of an airplane. These photos are excellent potential resources for scaling and zooming on details.
Investigate at the Ground Level
At ground level, the accident scene should be thoroughly inspected and photographed. Time is again of the essence here, as subsequent weather or traffic conditions may wipe away important evidence. In larger cases, particularly involving a commercial vehicle, an accident reconstructionist or experienced accident investigator might be used to take the most important photographs of a scene, as they will have a finely tuned sense for relevant details which may elude even the most experienced police officer.
Do Not Overlook Small Details
The initial search can reveal some the scene for unique details that at first
blush seems of low relevance (ex: papers left in the vehicles involved, locations of potholes or manhole covers, shoulder drop offs, unique topographical features, loose gravel, bumps, etc). Record their presence with a videotape or still photograph and videotape any traffic signal sequencing and timing. Line of sight obstructions should be noted.
If you anticipate that illumination and conspicuity of vehicles will be important issues, then obtain measurements and necessary photographs to preserve evidence that may disappear in a few months and be impossible to duplicate. As the Law Offices of Ryan Quinn, PLLC, can explain, photographs should be taken at intervals from perspectives of the key participants in the motor vehicle accident.