In 2010 the St. Landry Sheriff’s Department welcomed a traffic accident reconstruction expert among its team as Captain Brian Hundley successfully completed a course on accident investigation and reconstruction. Especially in fatal accidents or in cases where there are no eye-witnesses, car crash experts can play a pivotal role in determining the most probable explanation for how the accident occurred.
In an investigation, a crash reconstruction expert must rely heavily on evidence gathered by the police at the accident scene. Although the expert can consider a variety of physical evidence, including the road layout and traffic markings, tire skid marks, and the damaged vehicles themselves that remain after the occurrence of the crash, much of the expert’s analysis must be based on observations made after the event. For this reason, it is critical that police officers who respond to an accident scene are extremely diligent in preserving and recording evidence once the medical needs of the victims are addressed.
The reconstruction expert will review photographs of the roadway and vehicles and obtain detailed measurements of the site in order to create a diagram of the situation. This diagram is important for establishing the vehicles’ positions both before and after the impact.
The expert will also observe the various environmental factors that can influence the safe operation of vehicles. Common roadway factors include the surface material of the road, the slope of the lane, traffic signals and signage, the curve of the road, the presence of guard rails or other barriers, proximity to bridges, tunnels, or other structures, objects that impede the view of oncoming traffic, and whether the road itself has been properly maintained. Hazards such as potholes, pavement cracks, and debris can substantially impact roadway safety, and government authorities are required to observe certain standards aimed at reducing these dangers. Weather is also a major factor in motor accidents, and so the expert will look for this information on the police report and will also attempt to confirm the police officer’s observations by consulting local weather reports. Similarly, lighting (or the lack of it) plays a significant role in night-time collisions, and the expert will take note of any street lamps or other sources of illumination at or around the scene to confirm the information in the police report.
The crash expert’s advanced knowledge of physics and mathematics is applied to all the physical evidence he or she can gather. In addition, the expert will review and analyze all eye-witness statements taken by the police and, when possible, speak directly to witnesses to confirm their observations. The expert may also check the drivers’ motor vehicle records for evidence of inexperience or violation history in an effort to reach a conclusion about how the accident occurred.
Although many traffic accident reconstruction experts like Captain Hundley work for local law enforcement departments, some are also available in the private market to support car crash victims and their attorneys in lawsuits against negligent drivers. An expert’s opinion can dramatically influence the outcome of a case, particularly when the expert can establish credibility with the jury and serve as a resource for explaining complex matters related to the physics of the crash.
A reconstruction expert is of little value to a victim, however, if the expert cannot substantiate his or her education, credentials and experience for the court. In the next post on this topic, we will explore the role of the trial court in evaluating the qualifications of these experts, and highlight the reasons it is critical that accident victims work with an attorney who understands what to look for when hiring one of these experts.
If you have been injured in a car accident, call the Berniard Law Firm toll-free at 1-866-574-8005 and an attorney will help you get the recovery you deserve.