Time is of the Essence

It's in the Details

from Dial Engineering

Welcome to another edition of It’s in the Details, a short newsletter intended to provide helpful information for those in the litigation industry who deal with forensic engineering experts and their work.

Time is of the Essence

As many people are aware, the pace of justice can be slow. However, when it comes to gathering available forensic evidence before it disappears, the clock ticks rapidly and relentlessly.

When dealing with a recent loss event of any size, it helps to be wary of the potential for loss of evidence that can be critical to figuring out how the event occurred. Below, listed in order of most- to least-time-critical, are categories of evidence that should be gathered in a timely manner:

  • At-scene evidence such as tire marks, fluid stains, gouges, police markings, burn patterns, fracture surfaces, structural debris and more can be subject to immediate erosion over a period ranging from minutes to weeks after the event. Thus, if it is not certain whether an incident scene was thoroughly documented by first responders, retaining a competent investigator to immediately document such evidence via still photography, videography, and/or laser scanning before it disappears can be critical.
  • Heavy truck electronic data is subject to overwrite as soon as the truck leaves the collision scene and almost assuredly after a period of weeks or months, if not properly imaged and saved.
  • Witness observations regarding the event are subject to memory degradation starting hours after the incident and progress rapidly over the next several weeks. Sworn statements from key witnesses should ideally be taken within days of the event.
  • Video imagery of the incident occurring, or the leadup to it, if shot by a closed-circuit television (CCTV) system may have a shelf life ranging from twenty-four hours to several weeks, depending on the system and its owner. It is critical that all incident scenes be canvassed within days for the presence of video cameras which may have captured the incident, and that video files be offloaded and preserved in their original, unaltered format.
  • Photos and videos shot by bystanders on their phones are subject to loss or degradation due to mismanagement or sharing via text or social media over a period of months to years. Ideally, all witnesses noted in incident reports or observed in scene photos should be contacted within weeks to determine whether they still possess any such imagery.
  • Passenger vehicle “black box” and infotainment data is subject to loss over period of months when vehicles become sold, repaired, exported, or scrapped. Event data recorder data can be the best “independent witness” and should be preserved in every case which is even remotely anticipated to go into litigation.

Hopefully the checklist above can serve as a handy guide for identifying sources of forensic evidence to be preserved in relation to a loss.

Thanks for reading, and feel free to reach out to us with any technical questions you might have about this or other topics related to forensic engineering.

Dial Engineering

10736 Jefferson Blvd #519

Culver City, CA 90230

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