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Uncovering the Truth: How Our Lawyers Lead an Accident Investigation

To an accident victim or an inexperienced attorney, certain details of an accident might be considered extraneous or even irrelevant. To us, all details are treated with precision and close attention. That’s because we know that the seemingly smallest detail can make or break a case.

For instance, in a case that was resolved for $13.5 Million, a single piece of evidence, initially determined by police to be irrelevant, provided substantial support for our client’s story—and, ultimately, helped turn the case in her favor. This devastating accident occurred as our client, a young mother, was crossing the street on a dark and rainy night when a driver struck her. According to police, the driver claimed she didn’t see the woman, and they released her, determining she was not at fault.

But when our attorneys investigated the scene, they demanded to see all evidence collected the night of the accident—including the victim’s clothes. Among her tattered garments was a glittering, bejeweled purse. If she had been carrying this purse the night of the accident, the attorneys reasoned, it would light up like a Christmas tree in the spotlight of vehicle high beams.

This level of discovery only occurs when attorneys take the time to investigate an accident with a magnifying glass and a fine-tooth comb. It requires experience, determination and compassion.  For this particular case, our team of attorneys recreated the accident scene by purchasing the exact make and model of the car that the defendant was driving. A female attorney of similar height and build to the victim dressed in the victim’s clothes and crossed the exact intersection while another attorney drove the car. The team even waited to recreate the scene until the moon phase matched that of the moon on the night of the accident. This is the degree of scrutiny, detail, and heart our attorneys strive for in each case they sign.

Need To Know:

  • The purpose of any type of accident investigation, whether civil or criminal, is to obtain evidence that helps illuminate the truth of what happened.
  • There are many different kinds of accidents, including motor vehicle accidents, construction accidents, premises liability matters, and more, but the process by which attorneys investigate these accidents requires a similar experience level and a dogged approach.
  • It’s imperative to work with an attorney who is going to investigate the site of your accident or incident, pursue all credible evidentiary leads and try to identify and speak with as many relevant witnesses as possible to ensure the best possible outcome for your case.

The lawyers at Block O’Toole & Murphy have spent years fighting for justice on behalf of accident victims by uncovering witness testimony and elusive evidence as a result of their determined efforts during the investigatory phases of their cases. Block O’Toole & Murphy also works in tandem with some of New York’s savviest and most seasoned investigators. This combination has positioned their clients to obtain the best possible results in their cases.

In This Article:

Memory vs. Truth in Accidents

Often, the people involved in an accident will struggle to remember precisely what happened. Accidents take only a few seconds to happen, but the suddenness, shock and trauma of an accident can impact a person’ ability to recall and relate specific details. If you can’t recall every detail of your accident, this is perfectly normal and usually not a cause for genuine concern. Combining your recollection with creative and comprehensive accident investigation is one of the many ways a good attorney can find the truth and get you the justice you deserve.

There is no detail you should fear revealing to your attorney. The more you share—the good, the bad, and the ugly—the more we can help protect you.

Take a real case in which a pedestrian—our client—was hit by an MTA bus. On the evening of his accident, our client—let’s call him Bob—was intoxicated and, subsequently, thrown out of a bar. By his recollection, Bob was leaning up against the building, the outside of the bar, slightly turned away from the street. The next thing he knew, an MTA bus came up onto the sidewalk and ran him over.

Now, Bob’s testimony may seem general to you, but the detail of the sidewalk proved to be key for his case. Our attorneys visited the scene of the accident. The first thing we noticed was an awning outside the bar with poles that extended all the way to the curb. Additionally, there were multiple fire hydrants. These structures were still in place and intact, despite Bob’s testimony that he had been leaning against the building wall when the bus came up onto the sidewalk and hit him. It would have been impossible for the bus to have come up onto the sidewalk without dismantling the awning and fire hydrants. Does that mean Bob was lying? Not at all. He was having trouble remembering the frightening moments of his accident.

In our investigation of the accident scene, we discovered that Bob hadn’t been leaning against the building when the bus hit him. In fact, Bob had been standing at the curb with his back towards the street, smoking a cigarette. He had been leaning back and forth because he was intoxicated. When the MTA bus came speeding down its lane, Bob had been perfectly positioned to get struck even though he was on the sidewalk where he should have been safe. Bob was not lying intentionally—he didn’t remember what happened to him.

If our handling attorneys had simply accepted Bob’s recollection of things, stood before a jury, and relayed his testimony without investigating the scene ourselves, we would have lost the case. The Defense counsel would have only needed to show a single picture of the accident scene to completely discredit Bob’s testimony in the eyes of a judge or jury. Instead, we verified the information Bob gave us by examining each detail of his story against the hard physical evidence of the accident scene.

A Good Lawyer Knows Exactly How to Investigate Your Case

In Bob’s MTA bus accident case, our attorneys were able to visit the scene—a public sidewalk outside a bar—and gather evidence to untangle what happened. Sometimes, though, an attorney does not have access to the site of an accident. While local laws determine who can and cannot enter a job site outside of construction crew members, entering a construction zone without authorization can be considered trespassing. This is why it’s so important to hire a good lawyer who has investigated accident scenes before. He or she will know exactly how to proceed in gathering evidence if they encounter a roadblock such as limited scene access.

In today’s highly surveilled world, security cameras abound, especially in a big city like New York. We might not be able to obtain NYPD surveillance cameras or traffic cameras, but most businesses in New York have cameras depicting the sidewalk, the street, and the front of their business. An experienced attorney knows how to investigate the wider community in which an incident occurred, how to ask local shop owners and bystanders what they saw, and if they have any evidence of a scene that took place.

Take a different case in which our client—we’ll call him Eric—was hit by a bus. At the time of his accident, Eric was homeless. He had also been smoking crack cocaine and drinking, which altered his consciousness and memory at the time of his accident. By his recollection, Eric crossed the street, got hit by a bus, and wound up having his leg amputated. At first, Eric’s memory of the accident included what he believed to be a bus parked on the side of the road. He remembered walking out from behind that bus and into the street, then was hit by a different passing bus. Had we accepted Eric’s first testimony without investigation, there would have been no way for us to prosecute the bus driver who hit him.

Instead, we were able to secure video surveillance from the scene, which showed that there was no bus parked—that Eric stopped on the curb line, looked to his left, looked to his right, and there was no bus coming. Eric started to cross the street when the bus, which was speeding, made a right-hand turn onto the roadway, crossed the double yellow line, and hit Eric. If our attorneys had not conducted a scene investigation, we would not have found the surveillance cameras, which ultimately revealed the truth Eric couldn’t recall. Eric would have testified as to what he believed happened, which was not actually the truth. And we would have had no liability against the bus that hit him.

Do Law Firms Hire Private Investigators?

When investigating an accident, does an attorney or law firm bring in a private investigator? For us, it’s a case-by-case basis. No matter how many thousands of cases we’ve tried—and won—that are similar to yours, we treat each new story and set of data as a case with its own needs.

But because of the complexities of our world, experts in specialized fields can be crucial to winning a case.

Attorneys are like the directors of a film: they oversee everything taking place, every complicated mechanism, and they work to ensure that the total story and its details make sense. However, in making a film, a director does not also direct sound or lighting. A director does not handle costumes or post-production edits. Like a good director, an attorney knows how to make sure the best possible expert is managing the related field of a case.

Each type of accident may require a different expert in a highly specific field. In a construction accident, the focus tends toward the mechanism of the injury: did this involve a scaffold, a ladder, or a crane? In a car accident, the questions an attorney or police officer will ask are different. Was this a two-vehicle accident? How did the accident occur? What are the circumstances? From these initial questions and answers, an attorney is able to glean what kind of information he or she is missing—and who or what technologies are needed to fill in the gaps.

Calling in the Experts to Investigate Your Accident

Take a motor vehicle accident where, in the police report, the defendant’s statement was that her steering wheel and brakes malfunctioned at the time of the accident. Our client—we’ll call her Sarah—was hit by the defendant’s car head-on when the car crossed over a double yellow line. Because of the defendant’s statement, our attorneys knew that they needed to hire an engineer to inspect that vehicle—to inspect, essentially, the truth.

We, the attorneys, sent a preservation letter to the defendant. This is a legal document which instructed her to preserve her vehicle in its current form—no repairs, no alterations. Why? Because of the defendant’s statement. If it was true that a brand-new car had a mechanical defect, there would likely be additional defendants. The car’s manufacturer, for one, would need to answer to the vehicle malfunction. Or perhaps a company that performed maintenance or repair on the vehicle. This is where the “investigator” gets involved: in this case, an engineer.

We hired two automotive engineers to investigate from the perspective of their unique expertise. Both inspected the defendant’s car and found that the brakes and steering wheel were working perfectly. They knew how to go one step further in corroborating this truth: they downloaded computer data from the car that exhibited that the vehicle’s braking and steering were working correctly at the time of the incident. The ECM data determined that, in fact, the defendant accelerated at the time of the accident. She likely attempted to brake but hit the gas instead.

Accident investigation, like shooting a film, is a team effort. It’s not enough to have a strong, knowledgeable attorney: you need an attorney who knows how to bring in the best possible experts to help return a result in your favor.

Why You Need To Involve A Lawyer

Because of the trauma associated with an accident, the memory around that accident is subjected to the erosion of time. It’s important to call a lawyer as soon as possible so that he or she can preserve your memory of what happened. The longer you wait, the more details may slip away.

A good lawyer is your best possible chance at obtaining justice and finding the truth. A good lawyer knows when and how to bring in an expert investigator to the scene of the accident. Once lawyers get involved in a case, witnesses and people may be less willing to talk, particularly where larger companies are involved. Because big companies or businesses are looking to protect themselves, they will often tell potential witnesses not to speak to a lawyer. An investigator can have different luck. If deployed quickly, an investigator can obtain unbounded witness testimony, which can make or break a case from the start.

Three Ways Block O’Toole & Murphy Attorneys Will Investigate Your Case

  1.  We will gather every piece of evidence. As a firm of trial lawyers – many of whom are former prosecutors – Block O’Toole & Murphy investigates cases from the perspective of having to go to trial. In other words, we approach each case as if we are going to have to present evidence before a judge and jury—not simply move your case to a settlement. We are aggressive, savvy, and creative in the ways in which we gather evidence and find the truth.
  2. We’ll spare no expense if it will help win your case. Many law firms don’t want to do extra work to hire investigators, go to accident scenes, or find and speak to witnesses. They don’t want to hire engineers to do a full inspection of vehicles involved in an accident or someone who can download ECM or black box data from vehicles so it can be analyzed and interpreted. We’re willing to do all of that and more. It’s a lawyer’s obligation to ensure that a thorough investigation is conducted because that gives you the best chance of having a successful case resolution—and that means going the extra mile.
  3. We excel in accident reconstruction. Accident reconstruction allows investigators and attorneys to rebuild the scene of an incident in great detail in order to reveal deeper truths about what may have taken place. We know which experts to hire to help us photograph a scene, take measurements, and even move through the environment of an accident in such a way that we can put ourselves in a client’s shoes.

Select Results

Block O’Toole & Murphy attorneys have obtained incredible verdicts and settlements for clients injured in a variety of accidents. This includes car accidents (for drivers, passengers, or pedestrians), bus accidents, crashes involving trucks, construction accidents, elevator accidents, and other personal injury matters. Our skilled, compassionate attorneys have a history of recovering lost income and compensation for injuries, pain and suffering, and other damages in serious injury cases. With more than $1.5 billion recovered for clients in New York and New Jersey, you can trust our family at Block O’Toole & Murphy to help you navigate the future with dignity.

Call us at 212-736-5300 or contact us online to schedule a FREE consultation.

Select Results Include:

  • $110,174,972 Settlement for a Brooklyn cyclist who was struck in the New York City Subway by a falling railroad tie. This is believed to be the largest non-medical malpractice verdict in New York’s history.
  • $53,500,000 Settlement for a construction worker who suffered a devastating fall while hoisting an AC unit to the roof of a site project.
  • $32,756,156 Settlement for a Vietnam War Veteran, who was sent nearly 30 feet in the air when a negligent driver struck him.

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