Peter Thompson
Peter Thompson

Proving Fault in a Wrongful Death Case Arising from a New Hampshire Motor Vehicle Accident

Even in cases where you believe that the defendant is clearly at fault, a thorough investigation should be conducted into how the accident happened. If the wrongful death occurred due to a motor vehicle accident, it is critical that all physical evidence at the accident scene be photographed and measured, particularly skid marks, as soon as possible after the accident. A “preservation letter” should also be sent immediately to both the defendant motorist and his/her insurance company. A preservation letter is a written demand to keep all evidence related to the accident (e.g., the vehicle involved, the defendant’s cell phone data, etc.) intact until it can be inspected and analyzed. Given the number of fatal accidents that occur due to texting or looking at “smart” phones, preserving the data on a phone to see whether it was being used by the driver in any way just prior to the accident is of critical importance. Similarly, if an accident involved a commercial motor vehicle, it is particularly important that the “black box” that records the truck’s movement leading up to an accident be kept in an unaltered state until IT experts can examine and analyze that data.

In a wrongful death case, the defendant’s insurance company will almost certainly send out an expert in accident reconstruction to photograph the scene, take measurements, inspect damage, and interview witnesses. Although most police investigations are generally very thorough, the unfortunate reality is that, due to tight budgets and time constraints, many police departments—and even the State Police—do not have the manpower or resources to properly investigate an accident. Because errors can and do occur on a disturbingly frequent basis and because errors in a police investigation can be extremely detrimental to our clients’ cases, we conduct our own investigation, bringing in leading experts in their respective fields to gather and assess evidence of how and why an accident happened and assign fault to those responsible. Small details can make all the difference in the outcome of a case.

A recent case we won illustrates just how important those small details can be. The fatal accident occurred in 2012 when a truck hit our client’s daughter’s car as she was attempting to brake for a sudden pile-up in front of her. After we were hired to represent the family and investigate the accident, we immediately sent out an expert in accident reconstruction to gather evidence, including data from the “black box” in the defendant’s truck. The data from the black box turned out to be of critical importance because the trucker claimed that our client’s daughter swerved in front of him at the last second (from the passing lane) and there was nothing he could do to avoid the accident. In looking through the black box data, our expert found that the trucker had “hard braked” (i.e., braking hard while still traveling at a high rate of speed) 20 times during the three minute interval before the collision. According to our expert, this was strong evidence that he was tailgating during that three minute interval, something the trucker denied doing. Because there were no witnesses who could say one way or the other whether our client swerved in front of the truck, our case hinged on the theory that the trucker had been tailgating our client. The black box data, while not providing a conclusive answer whether the trucker was telling the truth, was sufficient to convince the trucking company’s insurer to settle the case for a fair and reasonable amount.