Lawyers and insurance claims professionals inevitably confront accident cases where the cause or liability is unclear. Proving what happened is the job of the accident reconstruction expert, who must have a deft combination of skills in physics, mathematics, kinematics, and human factors to definitively establish an accident’s cause.
An accident reconstruction expert is crucial for three key reasons:
- Eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable.
- Accidents have a host of sources of information that must be measured and assessed by people with deep experience in forensic engineering.
- Counterparties will bring in experts in an attempt to prove their side of the case. Your case must knock down their conclusions and establish yours as more probable.
Let’s explore each of these factors in a bit more detail.
Limits of eyewitness testimony
Science has documented that the human brain often shuts down memory processes in a crisis — leaving eyewitnesses to a car crash or industrial accident with foggy, unreliable memories of what they actually saw.
“The normal thing is that the person doesn’t remember the moment of the accident or right after,” clinical psychologist Javier Rodriguez Escobar said in an article in Scientific American. The article noted that the human brain becomes extra alert in an emergency to improve our chances of survival, but this mental process often comes at the expense of creating reliable memories.
This phenomenon helps explain why so many accidents produce conflicting explanations that undermine attempts to establish cause and assign liability in a court case. To win in court, you’ll need stronger evidence backed by scientific principles.
Sources used to reconstruct an accident
Picture a two-car crash where one car hits the other and sends it off the roadway where it strikes and knocks down a utility pole. An accident reconstruction expert might look at physical and photographic evidence from:
- Tire marks suggesting a loss of control, braking or swerving before the initial impact
- Vehicle specifications (I.e., weight, dimensions, braking system, etc.)
- Coefficient of friction factors for the roadway and off-roadway surfaces
- Gouge marks indicating the area of initial impact
- The cars’ airbag control modules (“black boxes”), which may store data on speed, braking, steering, and other variables
- The amount of metal crush that can be used to calculate the cars’ changes in speeds at the moment of impact
- The cars’ final resting places, which show how far and in which direction each car traveled after impact
- Human hairs, skin, or blood on the interior trim, seats, airbags, and windows to assist in understanding who was driving and the occupant movement inside the vehicles as a result of the impact between the cars, the post-impact travel and the eventual striking of the utility pole
- The forces required to knock down the telephone pole
And this is just a quick list of common accident-reconstruction sources. The full list of variables in an accident could number in the dozens.
These challenges underscore why a qualified accident reconstruction expert needs a deep background in engineering and the sciences — especially mathematics and physics — to understand how all these facts translate into determining the contributing factors that led to the collision. Contributing factors could include excessive speed, distraction, fatigue, and mechanical failures.
No matter which side you’re on in an accident-liability case, you’ll have an opponent trying to undermine the credibility of your conclusions. Often a case depends on your ability to hire experts to strengthen your case and cast doubts on your opponent’s reconstruction.
This is where the training, experience, and demeanor of your expert witness is crucial. Complex scientific principles must be conveyed in ways that judges and juries can easily understand. It’s one thing to know the science; it’s quite another to convey it clearly, easily, and without bias to people outside the profession.
And some expert witnesses work primarily on behalf of only one side in litigation matters (i.e., mostly plaintiffs or mostly defendants) — which could imply bias in their outlook that could be attacked by opposing counsel.
Choosing an accident-reconstruction expert wisely
At CTL Engineering, our accident-reconstruction experts are engineers with a comprehensive knowledge of the scientific principles that are used to determine how accidents happen. We provide credible, science-backed testimony equally distributed between plaintiffs and defendants. If the facts of the case are not in your client’s favor or there are significant problems with your case that must be considered, we will let you know right away so that you can make informed decisions about how to proceed.
Whether it is surveying and evaluating the accident scene, measuring the crush damage, downloading the black box, investigating component failures, performing a computer analysis, or reviewing witness statements, CTL Engineering’s goal is to provide an honest, thorough, and comprehensive analysis to determine how the accident occurred.
If you can’t marshal this kind of expertise when bringing a case to court, you’re vulnerable to an opponent who can.