This is the fifth of a six-part series titled Evidence & Proving Your Car Accident Personal Injury Case. In the prior segment, we discussed the key role that witnesses (including experts) may play in personal injury cases. Here, we look at a specialized type of expertise known as accident reconstruction and when it is appropriate and helpful in motor vehicle accident litigation.
In certain situations, such as multi-vehicle accidents or when fault is strongly being challenged, your personal injury attorney may deem that using vehicular accident reconstruction will benefit your case. Deciding to retain an individual or firm that focuses on this type of specialized work is important, in part because the cost of doing so may be significant.
What is Accident Reconstruction?
The process of accident reconstruction seeks to determine how and why an accident transpired using various technical methods. Some of those who are experts in this realm include those involved with engineering, physics or law enforcement (or a combination). The approach typically starts with identifying data that is known, which may include where the vehicle(s) ended up and the damage that occurred. A Reconstructionist may then proceed backwards to determine possible causes such as visibility, speed, and behavior of the drivers.
When an accident is reconstructed, a report is generated. This car accident reconstruction report is the result of the analysis that explains the event in a comprehensive and concise format, supported by expert testimony.
What Kinds of Things are Analyzed & Investigated?
- Vehicle characteristics/attributes
- Timing of traffic signals
- Rates of speed
- Visibility & weather
- Vehicle occupants & their positioning
- Seat belt usage/non-usage
- Observations of witnesses
- Time & distance
- Tire mark identification and examination
- “Black box” data retrieval and interpretation
Importance of Visual Tools
When using expert witnesses, their technical skills and specialized knowledge are obviously important; however, they must have the ability to translate their findings to the trier of fact. A truly effective trial Reconstructionist must be able to simplify, illustrate, summarize and present the information so that a jury can comprehend it.
A study by The National Academy of Forensic Engineers found that most listeners remember 15% of the verbally communicated information, but this rate increases up to 95% when the information is conveyed both verbally and visually. For this reason, the information is best delivered when accompanied by tools, such as graphic images, computerized animation, 3-dimensional modeling, simulation and more. When this information is provided in a manner that is effectively comprehended by jurors, it is likely to deliver excellent results in supporting or defending the claim of a party.
What Qualifications to Look For?
There is no clearly defined formula for recognizing an excellent vehicle accident reconstruction specialist, but your attorney may have experience with or knowledge of individuals or firms with a good reputation. Reviewing and examining candidates involves considering their experience, training, education, credentials, certifications etc. Some of the basic qualifying questions to consider include:
- How much experience do you have analyzing and investigating traffic accidents?
- What methods have you found to be effective in explaining these often complex concepts to a general audience?
- Do you have any industry-specific education or training? This may include training with the Traffic Institute, Traffic Accident Institute, or Accreditation Commission for Traffic Accident Reconstruction (A.C.T.A.R).
- Do your methods and tools for analysis and presentation meet or exceed today's standards for reliability?
Cases Most Suitable for Vehicular Accident Reconstruction
What types of circumstances or factors exist that may warrant conducting an accident reconstruction report on personal injury claims? You and your accident attorney may consider retaining an accident reconstruction expert for many reasons.
Often parties in a serious accident are unable to specifically recall much of what occurred. Vehicle occupants or those in close proximity may explain the event as something that “just happened so fast”. The need for reconstruction is generally based on the complexity and level of controversy surrounding the crash. The injured plaintiff must prove the defendant demonstrated negligence and key evidence may be missing. Accidents that resulted in catastrophic injuries or a fatality have serious consequences and may be fiercely defended by experts with conflicting accounts of the event. Accident resconstruction reports, therefore, are an important tool to identify what exactly happened.
In our last part of this series, we discuss medical records, another source of critical evidence that oftentimes uses experts, too, for analysis and prognosis.