Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Accident Investigation 101 Part V - Interviewing a Witness

Information from witnesses regarding the accident is vital for finding the accident cause.  There are several types of witnesses who could have information helpful in determining the cause of the accident:

·         Those who actually saw the accident happen or were involved with the accident.

·         Those who came on the scene immediately after the accident.

·         Those who saw events leading to the accident.

·         Those who have information about the specific operation involved, and the equipment involved in the accident.

Schedule a time to meet with each witness.  Because important details can be forgotten as time passes, interviews should be conducted as soon as possible.  Witnesses should be interviewed in private to avoid distraction.  Try to keep witnesses separated until you interview them, so that the observations of one do not affect that of another.  Have a list of questions you will ask each witness.  This will keep the interview organized and helps get the conversation back on track if the witness gets sidetracked.  Important points during the interview process:

·         Use an informal setting for the interview.  If you sit across a desk from the person being interviewed, the witness will be more intimidated and consequently may not provide as much information.

·         Explain to each witness that the investigation is being conducted to try to eliminate the cause of the accident so it doesn’t happen again, and not to place blame.  Let them know that the information they provide will aid greatly in understanding what happened.

·         Use open ended questions; questions that cannot be answered with a “yes” or “no”.  Questions like “Tell me what you saw” are much more likely to uncover valuable details which may not otherwise be recalled.

·         Never lead witnesses, or force them to give information unwillingly.

·         Let the witness proceed at his/her own pace without interfering in the conversation.  Take notes as to the specific details you want to probe further after the witness has finished.  Keep the witness talking about the details of the incident, and do not allow him/her to make conclusions.

·         If a witness does not speak English, interview him/her with an interpreter present.

·         If you need to interview a person who was injured in the accident, it is better to do the interview as soon as possible in the hospital rather than while the person is being cared for by emergency personnel.  Always follow the request of doctors and nurses caring for the patient if you do the interview in the hospital.

The interview process can be a challenge as witnesses may be reluctant to disclose information that they feel will get someone (or themselves) in trouble.  Witnesses are not trained observers.  They may not have been paying close enough attention at the time of the accident to provide enough details to be helpful.  In addition, the witness may have a personal bias for or against the injured party, which may skew their statement.  It is important to always record the witness’s statement as a statement and not as an absolute fact in the investigation.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Accident Investigation 101 Part IV - Photographing the Scene of an Accident

Photography can often serve as a valuable method of recording conditions at the time of the accident. This is true whether the incident is minor or serious.  Often times incidents don’t mature to a serious claim until much later.  Preserving the original scene as much as possible is vital as often changes occur during the investigation or shortly thereafter.

Photographs should be made prior to any adjustments to the scene.  They are helpful in determining what happened, preparing your report and in analyzing the conditions at the site.   These can be taken with a video, digital, disposable, or cell phone camera. 

Before taking any pictures you should determine if the scene has been altered.  If items have been moved or changed note what the alteration is and the person’s name who made the change.  Items may have been moved to reach an injured person or other legitimate reasons.  Remember to photograph from several angles; front, back and both sides.  For close-ups, use a ruler next to the object photographed in order to provide an accurate scale for the picture.

Create a log for each photographs/videos taken (download sample log here).  Note the weather conditions, time of day, angle from which it was taken, by whom and any observations made while photographing.  This information should be recorded at the same time as the pictures are being taken.  Utilize technology by recording into the video itself, into a note taker on your cell phone or have an employee write/type as you dictate.

Please be sure to pull and preserve any security camera footage on to a CD.  Save it with a date and time stamp as well as documenting the name of the claimant.   Keep all of the evidence from the accident in a separate clearly labeled envelope.

Statistically, the average person remembers 50% after 1 hour and only 30% a after 8 hours.
Once you are satisfied that you have gathered all of the evidence, including samples of liquids and any machinery you will need from the scene of the accident, it is best to return it to normal use.  Remove all barriers, restore power and allow personnel to function at the scene as normally as possible.  However, you must first make sure it is safe to do so.