Expert witness testimony can be instrumental in securing a veritable outcome when dealing with accident reconstruction cases. In all cases, expert witnesses are required to provide independent and unbiased evidence regarding specialized information. However, in litigation involving accidents, the technicality of these cases is exacerbated and therefore carries an immense amount of weight in the courtroom.
Accident reconstruction experts are required to scientifically investigate and analyze the causes of an accident by applying the laws of physics and engineering as the foundation for their conclusions. Their analysis is required to demonstrate why the accident has occurred, thus determining where the fault lies and what kind of damages and costs need to be considered. Due to the significant role that accident reconstruction experts play within the courtroom, they hold a substantial amount of responsibility in ensuring that the case is presented properly. Their specific responsibilities include:
Ensuring All Relevant Evidence Is Collected
Expert witnesses in accident reconstruction cases are required to do extensive scene inspections that meticulously cover all of the areas that may pertain to the accident, which includes examining photographs, measurements and available video footage of the accident and other relevant evidence such as skid marks, corporeal injuries, or damage to the vehicles involved. It is important to remember that witnesses may become unintentionally disconcerted since accidents usually only take a second to occur.
Outlining Contributing Factors
A multitude of factors can contribute to the accident, such as failure to use turn signals, engine rotations, acceleration, speed and the status of the brakes at the time as well as the size and weight of the vehicle, or the type of tires installed. External factors also need to be considered, such as implication of debris, lighting limitations and road conditions that were involved. It is up to the expert to recognize that factors that seem benign may be instrumental in determining causation. All of these must be considered when reconstructing the accident and conducting analyses.
Providing an Unbiased Opinion
It is the responsibility of an accident reconstruction witness to ensure that they have a factual basis for the opinion they are supporting. By taking into account all of the factors involved, the expert witness is expected to develop a complete and neutral view of what truly occurred throughout the incident. Additionally, they are required to admit their lack of knowledge when they are being asked about an issue that is outside of their area of expertise and should expressly state that the question is outside of the scope of their knowledge in this matter.
Accuracy in Methodology
When reconstructing an accident, it is important to take into account the roles of the different players involved — vehicle, driver and environment. While considering the response of these three actors is extremely difficult, it is the responsibility of the expert witness to ensure that their methodology is accurate and defensible. If necessary, they should utilize different technologies to enhance the scientific evidence found.
For example, 3-D laser scanning has become increasingly popular in accident reconstruction cases because it allows the expert to develop visuals and easily show accident reconstructions with the resulting impacts. Additionally, newer vehicles are often equipped with Crash Data Recorders (also known as a “black box”), which record a multitude of items such as speed, seatbelt status, or engine faults, which amplifies the data available to reconstruction experts.
Educating the Courtroom
Not only are accident reconstruction experts required to conduct tests to determine the facts of the case, they are also responsible for explaining the intricacies of the physics involved in the accident to both the jury and the attorneys. Unfortunately, it is not easy to teach the courtroom about this extremely multifaceted area of science in a limited time frame and intense courtroom setting instead of a comfortable classroom environment
To assist with this, forensic animation is often used to explain the results of a reconstruction expert’s work in a way that allows laypeople to understand the complexities of the physics involved in the accident. While this is helpful, the expert must also be careful to ensure that the accident is accurately depicted within the animation.
By reconstructing the event, accident reconstruction experts are often able to extrapolate whether the accident could have been prevented, which is something that not only can make or break a case, but can also determine the level of damages that should be awarded. As such, they must arrive in court prepared to present a complete testimony as it relates to their area of expertise. There are many components that need to come together to create a true picture of what happened throughout the event in question and a reconstruction expert is a valuable resource in helping put all of these pieces together in order to ensure a successful case. Dr. Jesse Wobrock