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Shapiro & Appleton

Building Your Case: How Experienced Injury Lawyers Investigate Catastrophic Injury and Wrongful Death Accident Claims

The most solemn mission that our law firm is asked to handle is a claim involving the catastrophic injury or death of a worker or family member.  Our firm has been asked to look into what initially appeared to be a mysterious death in transportation incidents (e.g. railroad accidents, railroad crossing deaths, car/truck wrecks) in addition to potential medical negligence or surgical error death cases. Sometimes, family members have only suspicion but not much hard evidence. They ask us to uncover the truth about what caused the accidental or unexpected death of their loved one.

Additional Information about Wrongful Death Claims

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In-depth legal guide regarding wrongful death

Video: Learn how a law firm successfully handles a wrongful death claim

Here are some of the initial steps we take, depending upon whether the claim stems from a railroad accident, car/truck wreck, or medical malpractice wrongful death:

            1.         Accident Report and Fatal Accident Report:  In any type of car, truck or railroad accident that involves a loss of life, there will normally be a traditional accident report and a more comprehensive fatal accident report.  We want to get our hands on both reports as soon as possible since they serve as a baseline for further investigating all of the information and evidence on a case.

            2.         911/Emergency Calls and Tapes:  In nearly every state, a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request can locate all taped phone calls of both emergency and consumer/citizen calls to 911 help centers.  Because of digital recording, these are not really tapes any more but are usually digitally recorded and can be reproduced on a CD‑ROM or other media upon request, and payment of administrative costs.  These recordings can be a vital source of evidence, and in some states the privacy or names of callers are protected and that further detail can only be obtained with a subpoena, which means that a suit must be filed first.

            3.         Event Recorder/Black Box Information:  Again, whether it is a car, large commercial truck or railroad accident, the vehicles or train/engines will have some form of black box, event recorder, or electronic control module (ECM).  This is vital data that can help extract the details of an accident involving moving vehicles.  Different event recorders/black boxes will record speed, braking, use of horn or bell (for a railroad crash), time brakes were applied, and other key information.  A request to preserve this vital evidence must be made immediately on the responsible party or the party in control of the information.  Often, a suit must be filed in order to prevent tampering or information being erased.

            4.         Visiting the Scene, Retaining Experts:  Not only do we visit a scene, but we often have an investigator at the scene of the accident. We usually retain experts in car, commercial trucking and railroad wrecks.  Getting to the scene as soon as possible and photographing the scene in its condition before changes are made, or before weather changes take place, can be critical as well.  We also obtain aerial or bird's-eye satellite images of a scene using several Internet research sites.

            5.         Autopsy:  If a case involves an accidental death, and if there are questions about the circumstances of the death including situations where medical negligence is suspected, it is very important that a family member request an autopsy immediately.  Sometimes, the toxicological evidence is critical in a medical malpractice case. The findings of an autopsy can be key with regard to the spread of cancer or any other similar medical evidence.  In cases that don't involve medical negligence, an autopsy still may be critical to show the types of trauma or injuries the victim suffered.  Our firm will coordinate a private autopsy in some cases (if timely) or we will make an immediate request for all of the data of an autopsy that is being conducted by a medical examiner's office.


There are many other aspects of representing families in a catastrophic accident or a wrongful death claim and these are just some of the procedures our firm will take. Clearly, every case has different facts and circumstances in addition to those listed above and we will do our very best to work with you to make sure you and your loved ones receive justice.

Richard N. Shapiro
Personal Injury & Wrongful Death Lawyer Serving Va Beach, Norfolk, Chesapeake & all of Virginia
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