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Speed and alcohol combine annually to add to Hawaii’s unfortunate statistics for motor vehicle wrongful death cases. The police always conduct very thorough investigations following a motor vehicle death in order to determine if any criminal charges should be filed. That can make it difficult to find out what happened becaues the police investigation is confidential and you can’t get the detrails of the police report.

When a family comes to our offices after losing a loved one in an automobile accident, we always want to begin the investigation as soon as possible since the facts and witnesses may disappear over time. However the investigation must be done in a limited fashion so as not to interfere with the police investigation. If our office institutes a civil lawsuit for damages on behalf of the family, it may cause the police problems in prosecuting the other driver. These delays can be frustrating to the family and can make the grieving process last longer than it normally would. However it is important to allow the police to complete their work and that may mean up a year delay in beginning a civil lawsuit.

The investigation of a wrongful death claim presents some unusual problems for the lawyers for the family. The first is that the victim is not available to relate his or her version of what occured prior to the collision. This problem is exacerbated when the death occurs in the collision itself as opposed to occuring after a lengthy period due to the injuries. Often we employe the use of engineering specialists in event reconstruction to recreate how the collision happened. These specialists are often referred to as “accident reconstruction” experts and they use complex mathematical and computer systems to figure out from the physical eveidence what happened. important physical evidence includes all of the physical factors associated with the vehicles, braking skid marks, resting place of the vehicle, road and weather conditions and all other unique physical factors that may be involved. The cost of such an analysis can cost up to $50,000 depending on the complexity involved.

Witnesses also can be crucial to prove the case and sometimes the police miss eyewitnesses on the scene who left before the police arrive. That may require advertising in the newspaper for eyewitnesses. But this must be done shortly after the incident while the witnesses have the incident in mind. It is important that witness statements be obtained as early as possible since the memory fades over time. The best method of getting those statements is to have a private investigator take a statement from each witness, reduce the statement to writing and have the witness sign and date the statement, verifying the accuracy of the statement. Using a video camera or an audio recorder can also help preserve witness testimony and can be effective if the witness is interviewed at the scene of the incident.

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