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Posts Tagged ‘accident photographs’

The customer is always right

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

There’s an old saying in business that the customer is always right.  You can see why it was coined, upset your customer, say goodbye to business, the logic seems undeniable.  However, as legal agents, are we able to be that flexible?  There’s no real problem when Mrs Gruttock insists on surrounding her lawn with daffodils when the gardener thinks shrubs will be more effective.  However, when we are asked to undertake tasks we have a responsibility to the courts as well as to our clients so it is a bit different.

Over the years we have been asked to check evidence submitted to the courts by our client’s opponents – usually sketch plans and photographs.  I’ve no doubt that there are occasions when someone on the “other side” queries our work and that is fine with me as we only submit evidence that is honest regardless of whether it suits one party more than the other.  Basically it is a “What we see is what you get” situation.

Sadly there are instances where what we are shown from other sources is definitely not what you would see at the site.  The usual discrepancies relate to distance which can be crucial where speed and visibility are factors in the case.  I’ve seen distances “shortened” by the use of a telephoto lens on the camera and then underestimated on the sketch plan.  It is only a sketch plan after all so nobody should expect 100% accuracy but a 50% discrepancy (seen a few years back) is stretching things too far.  Quite recently I realised that a plan showed a line of vision that did not exist.  I had reason to talk to the person who had prepared the plan (not one of our agents I would stress) and was told “That’s what my clients wanted”.  I suggested that doctoring a plan to mislead was hardly honest and to do it and sign the declaration on the paperwork was asking for trouble.  I could cite many more examples but will not bore you with them.

We take the view that we should tell our client exactly what is at an accident scene.  Some may suggest that anything unhelpful should not be conveyed to the client but if we don’t tell them the other side certainly will.  Worse still if that damaging information comes to light in the course of a court hearing where the judge might gain the impression that evidence had been suppressed.  If a lawyer is on a conditional or fixed fee case he/she wants to run a good solid case so weaknesses need to be exposed sooner rather than later – if the litigant is proven to be a liar in court it is not going to reflect well on the team that has been supporting that individual.  Costs allocation can be an effective form of “punishment” as we all know.

So, is the customer always right in any situation?  Claims handlers pay us to report to them and we endeavour to do so as accurately as possible – why pay for information and then ignore it?  At the end of the day we are trying to help our clients make an informed decision and if that is to tell a litigant his case is flawed or recommend to an insurer that a claim should be paid then so be it.  I am pleased to say that, fortunately, most of our investigations support our clients and then we are all happy!

Does Google Streetview mean the death of the locus report?

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

It was recently suggested to me that the 95% coverage of the country claimed by Google Streetview was going to finish off the need to supply “sketch plan and photographs” in the legal agency field.  It may look like it but I must beg to differ.

I cannot recall how many of these locus jobs I have done over the years but each one has been different and the requirements of the instructing office have been equally varied.  Some locations seem to generate accidents so we have been back to the same location more than once but each visit has had a new set of requirements.

We are often asked to check traffic patterns at specific times of day and how the street environment is “used” by the various types of traffic and pedestrians.  I can recall more than one occasion where I have been sitting in my car at an accident scene waiting for the sun to rise in order to check visibility and the effect of dazzle on motorists.  The many elements needing to be checked appear to be infinite in their variety and combinations.

So, are the days of standing at the roadside clipboard and camera in hand recording relevant data gone forever?  I don’t think so.  It is obvious that some people are introducing downloaded prints of Streetview scenes into the courts but this is a practice which is almost certainly going to come back and bite those individuals on their nether regions.

Let’s have a look at Streetview and its copyright images and see why this could all go horribly wrong.  There are lots of lovely colour pictures easily accessible for free and not involving much effort – sounds great doesn’t it?  Just look at those lively street scenes, well not always lively as many have been taken on a Sunday morning with hardly any traffic around but at least you can see the street markings.  Well, yes, sometimes but lower screen material is often distorted but we can live with that surely, unless of course you want to know the height of the kerb or the quality of that road repair or the condition of the street furniture or anything else that isn’t visible from about 3 metres up in the air.  We’ll ignore the screen joins as well and try and guess at any slopes so that’s probably not too bad.  The number plate obscuring software also seems to work on some road name plates.

Mentioning the camera position brings me to another problem.  Most of the accidents we get to deal with are at junctions and the usual need is for data on the visibility for emerging drivers.  This is easily checked by an investigator on the scene but virtually impossible on Streetview where the picture has been taken from the carriageway by a camera mounted on a tall pole – not exactly what the average motorist is going to see is it?  A photographer can also see and record some worn street markings which do not always show up on Streetview.

Our main office is based in Mid Sussex and it appears that our Streetview pictures are amongst the most recent so let’s have a look at them.  Firstly there’s my Citroen parked outside the office (car written off in late 2009), then to the local petrol station where a bargain can be had with fuel at 97p a litre, never mind let’s go past the busy off-licence (shut down months ago) into town and go along the main street.  There’s the carpet store (also closed months ago) and the pub (not only closed but demolished as well).  Turning the other way we can follow the main road unblemished by the current road markings and parking areas.  By now you probably get the general idea and the situation elsewhere is even worse – go into London and see the busy Woolworth’s stores – it’s like having your own little time machine.

If you knew exactly when the pictures were taken it might not be so bad but this is not shown and I hardly think that Google will be overly keen on sending their cameraman to court to verify his photography.  Furthermore how are you going to get this material into court as evidence?  If the views are printed off (copyright issues?) they can easily be tampered with so do you have numerous monitors set up in court so that all parties can see the same screen view live from the internet at the same moment?  Personally I cannot see it happening.

The whole concept of using Streetview as a locus photography tool seems a bit of a car crash to me which is why I am not too worried.  We are called in to help clear up the aftermath of crashes every day and I guess that being asked to sort things out after people have tried to take short-cuts with Streetview will just be another source of business.

Geoden Agency has for over 20 years prepared profession locus reports and photographs, these include a personal visit to the location and take into consideration the relevant and often unique features of the road layout / local environment at that point.