The Importance of Preserving Evidence After an Accident

Posted By: Tony Baratta | October 18th, 2019

Immediate preservation of evidence following a car or truck wreck is critical.

Evidence to explain why a wreck occurred can be lost if not preserved and retrieved immediately.  It is vital when a person is seriously injured to immediately preserve and gather this evidence.  Unfortunately, many victims are unable to accomplish this because they either contact a lawyer who is ill prepared to ensure preservation of the evidence or because they delay in seeking legal help.

How an accident occurred is often times immediately easily understood:  for example, the “how” could be a rear-ender, a cross-over into oncoming traffic, a left hand turn in front of oncoming traffic, etc.  However, the “how” an accident occurred never explains “why” it occurred.

Examples of “why” it occurred include that the driver was texting or otherwise distracted, the driver was speeding, the driver was tired, etc.  In order to determine why a wreck occurred, the following steps must be taken whenever there is a serious injury:

  • Photograph the scene of the wreck showing vehicle positions, markings in the roadway, contemporaneous weather and lighting conditions and other important details that memory will never be able to reconstruct.

  • Immediate contact with any witnesses to the wreck.  Many lawyers make the mistake of attempting to obtain witness statements months or even years after the car wreck, well after memories have faded.  These memories must be preserved immediately. The well-prepared lawyer works with experienced and competent investigators to doggedly obtain this critical necessary information.

  • Surveillance video must be preserved. In this day and age, there are cameras everywhere and the availability of surveillance video from surrounding homes, businesses, township or city or state placed cameras is critical.  Surveillance video is lost after a few short days following an event if efforts are not made to immediately preserve it.

  • The vehicles themselves must be preserved for inspection and download of any available electronic data, i.e., “black box” material.  If the vehicles are sold or repaired prior to this information being downloaded by the appropriate expert, it is lost forever.  This information can explain speeds of vehicles, when the drivers’ foot was last on the accelerator or last on the brakes, etc., in the seconds to minutes prior to a crash. It also can determine whether there was any vehicle defect in play that contributed to the collision.  For example, In a case that I am presently handling, because black box data was able to be downloaded from a commercial vehicle immediately after a collision, we were able to prove the lie told by the truck driver that he had braked before smashing into the rear of my client’s vehicle but that the roadway conditions prevented him from stopping.  The black box data proved that he had actually had his foot on the accelerator up until a second before the collision. It also showed that he was travelling at 45 mph at the time of impact when he testified that he had been travelling less than 20 mph.

  • Cell phone data.  Today, cell phones are often connected through Bluetooth in our motor vehicles.  By hiring a prepared lawyer, information may be obtained which could assist in determining whether the driver was using a cell phone and how the driver was using a cell phone at the time of a wreck. Again, this vital information may be lost if efforts are not made to immediately preserve it.

You may expect that police investigation would include gathering this information.  I can honestly tell you that in the 20 years of representing victims of serious motor vehicle accidents, I have never seen a police department do all of these things and, most often, they do none of these things.  Police departments are extremely busy and they are concerned, rightfully so, not with the investigation of what happened in a car accident, or why, but instead with ensuring that the participants in the wreck are quickly treated for their injuries and that the roadway is open again to traffic as quickly as possible.  Police officers are not investigators.  It is very rare that an accident is serious enough for a police department to engage the services of an accident reconstruction expert immediately and in time to preserve the kind of evidence necessary to explain why a wreck occurred.

Therefore, I implore you, when a family member is seriously injured in a motor vehicle wreck, to immediately contact a competent, experienced trial lawyer who is financially prepared to invest the funds necessary to perform the kind of investigation that will preserve this kind of evidence.

About the Author

Anthony J. Baratta (Tony) is a trial attorney. He has tried more than 50 cases to Juries in State and Federal Courts and has litigated thousands of personal injury and medical malpractice cases in his 30-year career. Tony is the founding partner of Baratta, Russell, & Baratta and an active board member of the Pennsylvania Brain Injury Association (BPIA). Tony is also on the board for the Philadelphia VIP and performs pro bono work for the Laurel House, a non-profit for victims of domestic abuse. In addition, Tony is a member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum for trial attorneys, voted one of Philadelphia’s Super Lawyers for the past 14 years, and a 2018 recipient of the First Judicial District Pro Bono Award for the Civil Trial Division.

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