Before you grant that next hail damage claim, look deeper to determine if what you see is really the product of nature or the fabrication of a man-made scheme. Insurance companies are digging deeper to find the truth by conducting more thorough investigations.
Recently, an insurance company initiated a study to determine the circumstances surrounding a suspicious hail damage claim. The insurance company wanted to piece together all aspects of an investigation to determine the legitimacy of the claim.
The first thing the insurance company did was make a cast of the reported hail indentations from a vehicle and sent it in for analysis. This initial inquiry triggered a study, not only of the marks made by hail, but also of the man-made indentations that mimic hail damage. The two most obvious methods that mimic hail damage are a hammer and a golf ball. (The discussion is being limited to only two methods of reproducing hail damage in an effort to keep from becoming a how-to article).
Follow the steps conducted in the study to see how this insurance company discovered the truth.
Begin by listing the methods used to produce man-made indentation marks. Once the list is made, take photos of the possible tools. Measure and make casts of the portion of the tool that actually made the marks (came in contact with the surface it damaged).
Make a catalogue of the photos and the tool castings and keep it for comparative purposes. This catalogue is one of the basic reference tools used during the later stages in the analysis process.
Once the tools are documented, make indentations on vehicle hoods, roofs and fenders (This can also be used on other surfaces like roofing or siding). Take photographs, measure and make casts of the marks left on the fenders, roofs and hoods to expand the catalogue. Next, measure, photograph and make casts of the real hail damage marks.
The next step is to gather all of the available information for a closer look. Conduct a thorough analysis of the data and compare the man-made damage to actual hail damage.
As with any other analysis of an incident, the background circumstances of this type of loss are important in the evaluation process. The type of information that is necessary is basic. To obtain essential information, ask the following questions:
A Picture is Worth 1,000 Words
Documentation of the scene whenever possible, not only of the vehicle, but also the surroundings, is an excellent evaluation tool. Photos of the area around the vehicle and the relationship of the vehicle damage to the protected areas and the direction of the storm is important. When taking photos, have a scale in the photo to indicate the overall size of the dents.
Documentation of the collateral damage to windows and walls near the vehicle needs to be done by photographs to help affirm or negate the possibility of hail-causing damage. Compare the damaged areas on the vehicle with the storm's circumstances to look at the overall pattern of damage. The direction of the wind and storm, the items that act as shields between the hail and the vehicle and the hail damage to the items nearby, are factors affecting the damage pattern. The circumstances of the storm and the patterns found both on the vehicle and the surroundings must correlate to develop an overall picture that is consistent with the hail damage.
Follow the same general documentation practices used in all other scene work and evidence documentation. Photograph the general area and then work your way in toward the damage in progressive steps. Finally, use close-up photography with scales incorporated in the photos. The last step in the scene documentation process is the casting of the dent marks on the vehicle or structure. Photos of the castings of the damage are suggested as part of the basic documentation process.
The casting material needs to be capable of reproducing the fine cracks in the paint. The fine details can reveal symmetric patterns that are indicative of a man-made object.
Practice Makes Perfect
When making the casts of the damaged area, remember to follow the manufacturer's directions carefully. Practicing mixing the materials and following the steps described by the manufacturer is important in producing a quality casting. As with any other skill oriented task, practice is important. Do not wait until it is time to make a cast on a damaged vehicle before you try mixing the casting material and making a cast.
Here are few suggestions to consider when making the castings:
Compare and Contrast
After recording the various ways to duplicate hail damage, use body panels to produce exemplar castings of the different techniques. Save these exemplar castings to compare with the reported hail damage castings.
Photograph each of the different marks. Use the photos as well as the castings to compare with each of the hail damage marks. Include details like the overall size, shape, texture and patterns present in your notes. Each of these details becomes a potential comparative point to be used during the next step in the procedure.
Form the Decision
Once the background information is carefully reviewed, ask these questions:
The analysis process used on the examination of the castings is a simple matter of carefully reviewing the reported hail damage marks on the vehicle. Compare castings made of the dents to the castings of the man-made dents.
After the two basic analyses are complete, an informed decision is made. Are the reported circumstances of the incident consistent with the damage found and are there any marks found in the dents that are consistent with man-made damage?
Each step in the process makes it easier for insurance companies to uncover the truth. As with all of the other forensic tools available, the comparison of the marks left by hail vs. man-made damage is simply a tool they have to make a decision.
The analysis of the hail damage using castings of the marks is now in the refinement stage. The collection of man-made mark castings will continue for as long as the process is used. The manner in which people try to emulate hail damage is only limited by their imagination.
If you have any questions or recommendations on the process, please feel free to contact us. Any recommendation on the possible improvement of the process would be greatly appreciated and carefully considered. We may be contacted by phone, fax or email all listed at the top of this webpage
De Forest Peter R., Gaensslen R.E., Lee Henry C., Forensic Science, An Introduction to Criminalistic, Chap.14,1983 383-388.
Lee,Henry C., Crime Scene Investigation, Chap.7, 1994; 107-110.
Nichols, Ronald G., Firearm and tool mark identification Criteria: A Review of the Literature, Journal of Forensic Sciences; vol.42, no.3, May 1997; 466-473.
Starrs, James E., Moenssens, Andre A., Henderson, Carol E., Inbau, Fred E., Firearms Identification and Comparative Micrography, Scientific Evidence in Civil and Criminal Cases; chap.6, 1995;307-398.
Our thanks to Don Mikko of the Army Crime Lab for his input regarding castings and such.
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