There has been a great deal written these past few weeks about the role of the NYPD in investigating cycle crash cases and the failure to fulfill their obligation to the citizens of New York and the families of those victims. Like all news events the press brings to the forefront things normally not known to everyone. However the failure of the police and other agencies in fully and properly investigating accidents is not new to the personal injury bar and has never stopped us from obtaining justice for our clients.
There is no doubt that in a perfect world the NYPD Accident Investigation Squad (A.I.S) should meet the obligation of the victim and their families to competently and completely investigate all serious or fatal crashes. However, we don't live in a perfect world. Having represented hundred's of seriously injured motorists, motorcyclist, cyclists and pedestrians, I can personally tell you that the events that have been made so public these passed months are not uncommon.
• The case of Michelle Matson, a Greenpoint artist who was stuck by a hit-and-run driver and suffered a broken back in October 2011. Public records indicate cops let the case go cold and did not properly investigate because there was no fatality.
• The case of Stefanos Tsigrimanis, a musician who was killed by a truck driver in Fort Greene in September 2010. Cops didn't pursue the case until 10 days after his death because they incorrectly believed he there was no risk he would lose his life.
• The case of Clara Heyworth, a marketing director killed by a drunk driver in Fort Greene in July 2011. The District Attorney could not pursue the case because police did not go arrive at the scene until at least three days after the crash, limiting the amount of evidence obtained.
• The case of Mathieu Lefevre, an artist killed by a truck driver in October 2011. Cops made errors in the police report, failed to collect evidence at the scene, and are now facing a lawsuit from the victim's family for allegedly withholding videos and documents from their investigation.
Just ask any personal injury attorney in New York and they will tell you that absent a plane crash where the NTSB will provide a complete and thorough crash analysis, or maybe a horrific building collapse when OSHA and the Dept. of Buildings timely and adequately investigate, in the day to day operations of overwork and understaffed police departments, we are not going to see to the type of investigations the people of New York are demanding.
However, this does not bar these victims and families from justice. More often than not, these families retain a personal injury attorney to represent the rights of the family for these tragic losses. It is the role of that attorney, to promptly investigate the crash.
A competent attorney will retain investigators within days of being hired. The investigators will canvas the scene, secure photographs, and interview witnesses to build the case. If necessary, the attorney will spend the money to retain an accident reconstructionist to use this data to reconstruct the crash. A competent and skilled attorney cannot and would never wait for the police do their job for them. If a report and investigation is done, fantastic, use it to bolster the case, but a good attorney would never rely on that alone. If that report has witnesses, interview them again. The police are interested in criminal fault while a personally injury attorney needs to prove negligence. We are looking for too separate things.
While we would all like the NYPD or other Police Departments and their Accident Investigation Squads to always provide us with a thorough and complete accident analysis, this is just not ever going to happen in every serious crash case. If we pass laws requiring all fatal and serious accidents and crashes to be investigated, we will have more investigations with a significantly less caliber in the report. Given the number of serious and fatal crashes that occur in New York on a daily basis, it will never be something that we will see.
It is and has always been the job of that family's lawyer, and his investigators, to help find justice for these families.