Accident reconstruction is very important in litigation involving severe motor vehicle crashes and is used on a regular basis by lawyers in our firm’s Personal Injury/Products Liability Section. Vehicular accident reconstruction is the scientific process of investigating, analyzing, and drawing conclusions about the causes and events during a vehicle collision. Reconstructionist are employed to conduct in-depth collision analysis and reconstruction to identify the collision causation and contributing factors in different types of collisions. They look at the role of the driver(s), vehicle(s), roadway and the environment.
The accident reconstruction provides rigorous analysis that he or she, as an expert, can present at trial. Accident reconstructions are done in cases involving fatalities and when serious personal injury is involved. These reconstructions are often conducted by forensic engineers, specialized units in law enforcement agencies, or by private consultants who are usually engineers or former law enforcement officers.
In our cases, we hire qualified expert witnesses who reconstruct the accidents and then testify at trial. While there are times when an expert is not needed, a qualified Reconstructionist, who has specialized knowledge in this field, can really help the jury understand how the crash occurred in certain cases. Accident reconstruction experts are trained to map and diagram the scene, perform speed analysis, time and distance analysis, and vehicle crash analysis. They recreate the actual crash using data, gouge marks, evidence at the scene, as well as performing their own tests with vehicles or tractor trailers. Scene inspections and data recovery involves visiting the scene of the accident and investigating all of the vehicles involved in the collision.
Investigations involve collecting evidence such as scene photographs, video of the collision, measurements of the scene, eyewitness testimony, and considering depositions that have been taken. Additional factors include steering angles, braking, lengths of skid marks, use of lights, turn signals, speed, acceleration, engine rpm, cruise control and anti-lock brakes. Witnesses are interviewed during accident reconstruction, and physical evidence such as tire marks are examined.
Vehicle speeds are frequently underestimated by a driver, so an independent estimate of speed is quite often essential in accidents. Inspection of the road surface is also very important, especially when traction has been lost due to black ice, diesel fuel contamination or obstacles such as road debris. Data from an event data recorder also provides valuable information such as speed of the vehicle prior to a collision.
Accident reconstruction software is regularly used to analyze a collision and to demonstrate what occurred in an accident. Examples of types of software used by accident reconstructionist are CAD (computer aided design) programs, vehicle specification databases, momentum and energy analysis programs, collision simulators, and photogrammetry software.
After the analysis is completed, forensic engineers compile report findings, diagrams, and animations to form their expert testimony and conclusions relating to the accident. Forensic animation typically depicts all or part of an accident sequence in a video format so that juries can easily understand the expert’s opinions regarding that event. To be physically realistic, an animation needs to be created by someone with knowledge of physics, dynamics and engineering. When animations are used in a courtroom setting, they should be carefully scrutinized. A reliable animation must be based on physical evidence and calculations that embody the laws of physics, and the animation should only be used to demonstrate in a visual fashion the underlying calculations made by the expert analyzing the case.
Many of the big trucks operated on the highways today have the ability to record data from certain events with an Electronic Control Module (ECM). Trucks often have different engines, such as Cummins and Caterpillar, but most of the heavy trucks have electronic engine controls. A qualified and trained expert can analyze the electronic data that is recorded in the engine of the big truck. This information can be key evidence regarding the manner in which the driver applied the brakes and the speed of the truck, and can be used to reconstruct the collision.
The ECM is designed to warn the driver of problems and to prevent the engine from being damaged. Data is recorded if a “fault” occurs that indicates a sensor is below normal, such as oil temperature, fuel pump, coolant level and other levels that can ruin an engine if not noticed and corrected. This information or data can be recorded before a collision occurs.
Some of the diagnostic data can also be recorded when these sensors are damaged in the collision. The data must be downloaded by someone who has proper vehicle electronic diagnostic training. Such information can provide evidence of hard braking, trip history, speed, maintenance history and other data. The data recorded in the ECM and later downloaded can provide valuable information to safety directors of truck companies on a daily basis. It also can reveal data that is key evidence in Court for an expert witness who has reconstructed an accident.
If you need any additional information relating to accident reconstruction and the use at trial, contact Julia Beasley, a lawyer in our firm’s Personal Injury/Product Liability section, at 1-800-898-2034 or by email at Julia.Beasley@beasleyallen.com.
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