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Many NYC car accidents still not being investigated

The personal injury lawyers at Block O'Toiole & Murphy have commented frequently about the apparent unwillingness of NYPD to investigate traffic accidents – even accidents in which someone was injured. The NYC City Council recently held a hearing to find out whether the police department had made any progress since the last hearing on the subject, held more than a year ago.

It turns out that the progress made since last year has been limited. Many serious crashes still do not receive anything more than the most perfunctory investigation. However, the relevant units in the NYPD have expanded. Last year, the investigative service had 19 staff members; today there are 27. A new unit, the Collision Technician Group, was formed to collect evidence and analyze crash scenes. Despite these changes, there has been only a 23 percent increase in the number of accident investigations conducted by the department – and the overall number of crashes is slightly smaller than it was last year.

Despite this increase, the City Council is still concerned that the NYPD does not have strict standards in place to determine when an accident should be investigated. It appears to use the fire department’s definition of critical injury as a threshold for investigation. If a victim experiences respiratory arrest, receives CPR, or is attached to a ventilator, the NYPD will begin an investigation. At least one City Council member did not find this convincing.

Council Member Dan Garodnick said, “It seems to me a crash victim who has both legs broken, for example, but is not in respiratory arrest, there would not be a CIS investigation called under those circumstances.” Other advocates for increased investigations have said that the current policy of only investigating accidents with “critical” injuries violates New York State law.

One of the problems appears to be that summonses written by NYPD are frequently dismissed by administrative law judges when police officers did not personally witness the crashes for which they issued citations. The police department is advocating for a change in state law that would explicitly state that police are not required to witness a traffic violation such as speeding or running a red light that caused a crash.

The head of the NYPD Highway Unit said that of the 189 traffic deaths investigated so far in 2013, only 20 cases resulted in an arrest. The majority of accidents never result in a ticket or criminal charges because the collision was just an accident and nothing more, according to Inspector Paul Ciorra.

Source: Streetsblog.org, “To Reform NYPD Crash Investigations, There’s a Lot More Work to Do,” by Stephen Miller, Sep. 30, 2013.

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