We continue our Inside Beasley Allen series with a look at the firm’s in-house investigators.
Thirty years ago, Beasley Allen decided to conduct accident investigations in-house. Currently, the firm has seven highly qualified investigators, all with prior law enforcement experience, and a secretary, working to help piece together the facts of a client’s case. One of those investigators, Bobby Mozingo, has been with the firm for 25 years and sheds light on the work he and his fellow investigators provide the firm and its clients. He explained that his colleagues helped create a system the firm uses to locate witnesses and assists attorneys and staff across the firm in locating witnesses. The team of investigators is proud of its very high success rate. However, the majority of an investigator’s work is focused on conducting accident investigations, primarily for cases handled by the firm’s Personal Injury and Product Liability section.
“Clients come to us because something is wrong; something bad has happened, and they need our help,” Bobby said.
Gathering the pieces
The team of investigators plays a critical role in a case because most cases involve an initial investigation of the accident before any other steps are taken. Investigators visit the scene where the accident occurred – the beginning. They inspect everything they can look at that is related to the accident. For example, in a case involving a vehicle crash, investigators will inspect the tires, airbag, crushed roof, seat belts and other parts of the vehicle that were damaged and/or potentially contributed to the accident. They will photograph the scene of the accident and the vehicle, as well as measure all the markings to calculate speed and the Delta-v, or the measure of the severity of a vehicle crash. They may collect and examine pieces of evidence, such as tire tread, that remain at the scene and can help determine the cause of the accident. Similar steps are taken when an accident involves industrial equipment and on-the-job injuries. All evidence is processed and logged so that it becomes part of the potential case file.
Investigators also examine the vehicle involved in a crash. In newer cars, they can download information from the crash data retrieval system (CDR), also known as the Airbag Control Module (ACM), which can show the vehicle’s speed at the time of the crash, the time an airbag was deployed, the Delta-v, and information about seatbelt use, among other data. Bobby explains that time is of the essence in vehicle accidents because vehicle ownership may change quickly if an insurance company processes a claim and then sells the vehicle to a salvage company. It is difficult to track a car down and gain access to the vehicle once it no longer belongs to the client.
Further, the investigator will gather information about what happened by obtaining copies of accident reports, incident offense reports, driver’s license history reports, and other reports as they relate to the particular case.
All of the investigator’s findings will be compiled in a report that is given to an attorney who then determines whether there is enough evidence to pursue the case.
The devil is in the details
When a claim is filed, investigators begin locating and interviewing witnesses, including each first responder (e.g. law enforcement officers, medics, and firefighters) who was on the accident scene. In some cases, there could be 10 or more witnesses and they all will provide a different perspective of the accident. Bobby explained that it is important to interview all the witnesses because you never know what detail someone will share that could have an impact on the client’s case.
Likewise, in examining evidence, whether determining the avenue of ejection of a vehicle passenger or probing the effectiveness of a vehicle’s component, a seatbelt, for example, it is important to keep an open mind and be aware of the details. A case can turn from a liability case to a product liability case if an investigator uncovers a defective vehicle component. This happened in a case in which the firm recently obtained a $12 million verdict for its clients. Lacee Dial was killed when the rear axle of her 1999 Toyota 4Runner fractured. The defective part caused Lacee’s vehicle to roll over and collide with a utility pole, trapping her inside for two hours before she died from her injuries. The trooper on the scene faulted Lacee as the driver, yet while the firm’s investigators were examining the evidence, they discovered the defect in the axle. When attorneys presented the overwhelming evidence at trial, the jury determined that the Toyota’s defective rear axle, not Lacee, caused the tragic crash.
Other challenging cases involve injuries that do not manifest immediately, such as head injuries. Working with paralegals and other staff assigned to a case, investigators learn about the injuries that become apparent later. Staff that collects medical records notify investigators about developments such as memory loss. Combined with other evidence and clues from an investigation, the new medical developments can impact the path of a case.
Giving your best for clients in need
While it is difficult to estimate the time an investigator dedicates to a case, typically they spend about two years working to uncover as many details as possible and piecing together the events that changed their client’s life forever. It’s difficult to watch a client suffer because an auto manufacturer or other company prioritized their bottom line over consumer safety. Yet, investigators focus on doing the best job they can to help their clients, as well as try to prevent others from suffering the same fate.
Bobby recalls a case that made a significant impact on him, personally. Two young children were trapped inside a vehicle and burned to death because of a fuel-fed fire that resulted from a defective Chrysler product.
Bobby, a father and recent first-time grandfather, said, “It’s hard to think about those children and that their deaths shouldn’t have happened. If Chrysler had put a guard over the gas tank, they might still be alive today.”
The case is symbolic of many accident cases the investigators handle. A company knowingly places a dangerous product on the market. Its cost-benefit analysis tells the company that shoring up assets to pay claims brought against it in the event the dangerous product injures or kills consumers is a more cost-effective solution than recalling and fixing the defect. The civil justice system is often the remaining check on bad corporate behavior. Beasley Allen’s investigators willingly employ their skills and experience to begin putting the pieces of a client’s story together and helping them as they seek justice.
Inside Beasley Allen series
June 14 – Inside Beasley Allen – Our clients are the heart of what we do
June 28 – Inside Beasley Allen: Working with referring attorneys to bridge clients’ needs
July 5 – Inside Beasley Allen: Bringing a client’s story to life
July 12 – Inside Beasley Allen: Offering an opportunity for justice
July 19 – Inside Beasley Allen: Helping clients navigate the intersection of medical and legal needs