On the Scene: 4 Things to Remember to Become a Better Accident Investigator

August 18, 2022 • Previsor

When it comes to claims investigation, there’s no such thing as too much information, Terri Sweeten would say. Sweeten is a Field Services Manager in the Claims Department at MEM. She’s handled many motor vehicle accident scenes. This includes everything from solving the mystery of a runaway axle to seeing unfortunate outcomes where seatbelts were not used. 

Driver looks behind while backing up truck

What does a Field Service Manager do during a motor vehicle claims investigation? First, Sweeten looks at a claim from three different angles: 

  • Compensability of an injury 
  • Subrogation investigation 
  • Safety or drug and alcohol penalty consideration 

When it comes to a claims investigation, it’s important that the investigator think quickly on their feet. Here are a few key things to consider.

Timing is important 

Some claims have a long shelf life. Years later, evidence from that same case may be re-examined. With that in mind, Sweeten emphasizes that it’s important to gather as much information as possible, as quickly as possible, and secure any evidence. “Timely accident investigation can make or break a claim,” Sweeten said. For example, surveillance video must be collected quickly. It is often lost or recorded over in as quickly as 48 hours. 

Remember your angle 

Sweeten’s mantra: You can zoom in, but you can’t zoom out. It’s important to get a photo of the entire accident scene. Take a photo from multiple angles, including from  a wider perspective. 

“When you are taking a photo, you are preserving a site of the scene and what it looked like at that day, at that time. Is it sunny that day? Is it rainy? The scene changes depending on the day, weather, time, et cetera,” she added. 

Video is Everywhere 

There might be video from a business near the accident scene. Look at businesses near the accident. “You would be surprised how many times a day a person can appear on video,” Sweeten said. That video might contain important evidence related to the incident. 

A good example of video’s key role? Sweeten cited the 50 percent comparable fault rule in some states. “Some states are 50 percent comparable fault. So, say you and I were involved in the same auto accident  and we both say we had a green light. Then it becomes difficult to determine fault. Video at the intersection or accident scene then proves who was at fault and who was not,” she explained. 

Data Tells a Story 

What types of data are investigators looking for? In motor vehicle accidents, MEM often looks at seatbelt use or non-use. Data from vehicles is often available that will show seatbelt use. An event data recorder, sometimes informally referred to as an automotive black box, is a device installed in most automobiles to record information. 

Sweeten also looks for small signs of what might have occurred, such as:

  • Evidence of cell phone usage. Is there a headset or earbuds around? 
  • Signs of clutter. Is there something in the way of safe vehicle operation? For instance, food or clothing items?
  • Maintenance records. Has the vehicle been well-maintained? When was the last time the brakes were checked? 

If you want to learn more on carrying out the best investigation possible, check out Terri Sweeten’s WorkSAFE Webinar presentation.

August 18, 2022
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