Given recent incidents of police brutality around the country, and the resulting protests, many of us have pondered the role that law enforcement plays in an orderly society. Recently, I read a post where one questioned why police officers investigate motor vehicle collisions.
The police serve a vital role in gathering evidence at a collision scene. Their investigation often includes gathering witness and driver statements, photographing damage to the involved vehicles, photographing and often measuring damage to the roadway and surrounding structures, and in those collisions involving serious or fatal injuries, reconstructing the collision and determining the times, speeds and distances and each driver’s ability to perceive and react prior to the impact. Their accident report also provides the insurance information for all involved motorists. While a police officer is ordinarily not allowed to give her opinion regarding the cause of a motor vehicle collision, evidence gathered at the collision scene helps us determine if another motorist was at fault for causing our client’s injuries. Police officers will issue traffic citations to those who violate Arizona’s traffic code, which obviously helps keep us all safe (if there were no punishments for violating traffic laws, then more of us would violate traffic laws every day!). Occasionally those who injure our clients are engaged in criminal activity, such as driving while intoxicated and reckless driving, where officers will make an arrest if there is probable cause to believe the driver violated a criminal statute.
Independent witnesses are very important to our clients’ cases. Many cases are made, and sometimes broken, on the testimony of an independent witness. In one case, my client was approaching an intersection while another motorist was also approaching the intersection at a ninety degree angle. Both vehicles collided in the middle of the intersection. Both drivers insisted their light was green prior to entering the intersection; obviously, one of the drivers ran a red light. Our client was adamant that the last thing she saw before entering the intersection was a green light, but her memory was somewhat impaired as she woke up four days later in the intensive care unit of a local hospital. Fortunately, an older gentleman was driving immediately behind our client and later testified that her light was green when she entered the intersection.
The role of the police in thoroughly investigating motor vehicle collisions is vital to ensuring that those harmed by the negligent conduct of others will ultimately be reasonably and fairly compensated.