What responsibilities does an expert witness have when being hired for an accident reconstruction case?

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.

This means that professional and scientific opinions about accident inputs and outcomes are taken as an affirmation of the facts and therefore carry an immense amount of weight in the courtroom. This requires a high level of integrity in order to take on the responsibility to solidify the findings being argued and provide an unbiased opinion based on the available facts from the incident.

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.

Oftentimes, without a reconstruction expert, it is not even possible to speak to the case very well because the relevant facts have not been established in an unbiased manner. 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. This includes examining photographs, measurements, and available video footage of the accident. Relevant evidence may also include physical signs, such as skid marks, corporeal injuries, or damage to the vehicles involved. This is especially necessary because witnesses and drivers often underestimate their speeds and confuse the facts due to the trauma resulting from the event, or the immense speed at which the accident occurred. It is important to remember that witnesses may become unintentionally disconcerted since accidents usually only take a second or two to occur.

Outlining contributing factors:

What caused the accidentA 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 immediately preceding the accident as well as during the event. Accident analysis even involves considerations such as the size and weight of the vehicle, or what kinds of tires were installed. Apart from the physical components of the vehicle involved, external factors also need to be considered, such as whether any debris was implicated, whether lighting was limited, and the road conditions that were involved. It is up to the expert to recognize that even factors that seem benign may be instrumental in determining causation. All of these must be considered when reconstructing the accident and conducting analyses.

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.

Instead of providing a potentially inaccurate guess, the expert witness 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: the vehicle, the driver, and the environment. Considering the response of these three actors, while also taking into account all of the aforementioned contributing factors, is extremely difficult. As such, it is the responsibility of the expert witness to ensure that their methodology is accurate and defensible. If necessary, they should utilize different technologies, such as software, dimensional mapping, and various modeling techniques—all of which have become more rigorous in the past decade.

For example, 3D 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 the “black box”), which record a multitude of items such as speed, seatbelt status, or engine faults. This amplifies the data available to reconstruction experts and ensures the enhanced reliability of the scientists’ results.

Paramedics at an accident scene

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. Reconstruction science is not general knowledge, which is why an expert witness must be involved in the first place. Unfortunately, it is not easy to teach the courtroom about this extremely multi-faceted area of science in a limited timeframe. Additionally, this education occurs within the confines of cross-examination rather than 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, since these graphics are capable of demonstrating events which may not be physically possible.

Accident Reconstruction Experts

By reconstructing the event, accident reconstruction experts are often able to extrapolate whether the accident could have been prevented, which is something that can not only 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, which may include testing, simulation, data analysis, and forensic investigation.

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.