The Value Of Accident Documentation

By Jeff Griffin, Senior Editor | February 2013, Vol. 68 No. 2
Ron Peterson, Utility Consulting Professionals

Use the same process with video as with still photography, Peterson continues. “As the video camera records the scene, talk about what is being seen, and the camera’s sound will record the narrative,” he says. “Don’t express opinions, stick to the facts of what is pictured. Record statements of witnesses, crew and utility representatives, and show their vehicles in the video.”

For both photos and videos, the camera’s date and time stamp function should be activated so there is no doubt about when the images were captured. Peterson says a common mistake when gathering photographic and video evidence is failing to show the location of the damage in relation to other reference points at the location, especially the flags or paint that marked the route of the utility. Failing to show an overall view of the site before moving in for close-ups of the damage also is a frequent mistake.

Often local news reporters show up shortly after an accident. This is a critical time, says Peterson. Interaction with the news media needs to be managed. A contracting company needs a single media contact at the site. Other personnel should not talk to members of the press. The “wrong” answers could have serious consequences later (see sidebar for details and suggestions).

Gathering accurate information on site immediately after an accident that damages utilities is the starting point for preparing a comprehensive file on the incident. Management and legal counsel will analyze the information along with other evidence and research regulations and laws to determine liability issues, if any, and be prepared to respond to question raised by other parties involved.

The goal is to resolve disputes, claims and avoid litigation.

“The party with the best documentation usually prevails in disputes and wins the case if a lawsuit can’t be avoided. A quality investigation will effectively tell the story of the incident. While it may prove the excavator was not at fault, it may also help to provide excellent information if they are at fault and save needless litigation. By knowing what went wrong, the company can put processes in place to prevent future damage.”

Peterson has 17 years industry locating experience, eight with a utility claims department, two as an insurance adjustor and seven years as a utility contractor. He is a member of the Common Ground Alliance and National Utility Contractors Locating Association and has been an expert witness in numerous utility damage lawsuits.