How Are Fatal Car Accidents Investigated?
A Houston lawyer can help you get justice for your loved one
A car accident can happen in Houston in just seconds. Victims can be left with serious injuries, especially in collisions that happen at high speeds. Sometimes, these injuries are fatal. Family members are left with a devastating loss. There can also be a significant financial impact, including medical expenses, funeral costs, and a loss of income if the victim was a provider.
If a fatal accident was caused by a negligent driver, family members of victims deserve financial compensation. But insurance companies may challenge claims, or make lowball settlement offers. In order for a lawsuit to be successful, family members must be able to prove that negligence led to the accident that resulted in the loss of their loved one.
That evidence can be obtained through an investigation of the accident.
What causes fatal car accidents?
Car accidents are usually caused by negligent drivers. The driver’s vehicle was traveling well above the speed limit or too fast for conditions. A driver was texting behind the wheel and not paying attention to the road – or was distracted in some other way. In some cases, a driver was being reckless and made poor decisions. Other drivers were drunk, or fell asleep at the wheel.
But negligent drivers often don’t accept responsibility for causing a fatal accident, and won’t even admit to doing anything wrong. That makes it much more difficult to recover financial compensation after the loss of a loved one. That’s why the investigation of the fatal crash is so important.
How are fatal car accidents investigated?
When there is a serious crash, police officers from local law enforcement or the Texas Highway Patrol are called. Their immediate goals are to secure the accident scene and check on the condition of the people involved. They will call for emergency medical services for the injured, who may be taken to a hospital in the area for treatment.
Officers will also conduct an investigation of the fatal crash. As part of their fatal car accident investigation procedures, they will:
- Make observations. For example, they will note where the accident happened, the location of any traffic signs or signals, and the type of collision that occurred.
- Document the crash. Investigating officers will take measurements and get photos of the accident scene. This includes documenting damage to the vehicles, any skid marks on the road, and other information.
- Talk to drivers and witnesses. Officers will ask questions and take statements from everyone involved.
- Take a close look at vehicle damage. This involves assessing the extent of body damage, as well as taking a look at tires, brakes, and other parts of the vehicle.
- Make note of contributing conditions. These can include speed, traffic, mechanical problems, weather conditions, and other factors.
- Determine if there were any violations. Officers may conduct sobriety tests if they suspect alcohol or drug use by a driver. They may also issue a citation for speeding or another traffic violation.
- Conduct a crash analysis and technical reconstruction to try to determine the cause of the crash.
Police will also complete a Texas Peace Officer’s Crash Report. This report will contain important information about the drivers, the vehicles involved, and factors that may have played a role in the accident. The investigating officer will also include a crash narrative and diagram in the report.
When an accident reconstruction expert is needed
Police will investigate fatal accidents, but their focus is on determining whether a crime was committed, not on establishing fault for civil liability purposes. That’s why a plaintiff’s attorney may hire an accident reconstruction expert to examine what happened and build your case for compensation.
Automotive reconstruction experts typically have a wide range of experience and training in multiple fields. They have a working knowledge of physics, math, vehicle dynamics, and other subjects. They may also have studied specific techniques in accident reconstruction from organizations such as the Society of Automotive Engineers.
An accident reconstruction expert will:
- Read through driver and witness accounts, keeping in mind that such accounts are not always reliable.
- Review accident reports and other relevant documentation.
- Review photographs and any video of the accident scene.
- Review weather and lighting conditions at the time of the crash to determine driver visibility.
- Assess data from the vehicle’s event data recorder (the car’s “black box”), if available.
- Closely inspect the damaged vehicles to get an indication of speed, collision angle, and severity of the collision.
- Conduct an energy analysis, drag factor analysis, crush analysis, or other techniques to determine the speed of each vehicle at the time of collision.
- Conduct a time distance analysis to determine the speed, position, and time available to respond for each vehicle.
- Submit a written report with their findings. A 3D model of the accident may also be created in some cases.
- Testify if the case goes to trial.
How long do investigations take?
There is no set timeline. A police investigation of a fatal accident may take months to complete. The insurance company’s investigation may take just as long, as can your lawyer’s. Insurance companies often challenge wrongful death claims, so it’s important to hire a law firm with extensive experience in reviewing car accident investigations.
How an experienced attorney can help your case
Insurance companies often challenge wrongful death claims, so it’s important to hire a law firm with extensive experience in reviewing car accident investigations.
If you lost a loved one in a fatal car accident, an experienced attorney can work with a reputable accident reconstruction expert to investigate the crash. In addition, an attorney can gather evidence, carefully review accident reports, and interview witnesses. An attorney can then build a strong case that proves negligence.
The amount of compensation that can be recovered in a lawsuit involving a car accident death will vary. But in general, family members can seek compensation for final medical expenses, funeral expenses, lost future income, and other damages. It’s important to note that your civil case is distinct from any criminal charges (such as homicide or vehicular manslaughter) that may be brought by the State of Texas in connection with the same accident.
An attorney can handle all communications with the insurance company and negotiate a wrongful death car accident settlement. If a settlement can’t be reached, your attorney can take your case to trial, where evidence from the car accident investigation will be presented.
Get answers to your questions today
It’s normal to have many questions following the loss of a loved one in a fatal car accident. Who can be held accountable? Will I need to go to court? Does accidental death insurance cover car accidents?
You can get answers to your questions during a free consultation with an attorney. If you lost a loved one in a fatal car accident, it’s important to get legal advice as soon as possible. A lawyer can review the details of your loved one’s crash and go over your legal options. Contact Smith & Hassler to schedule your free consultation.
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