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What Is The Purpose of an Accident Reconstructionist in a Personal Injury Trial?

The events leading up to and causing a motor vehicle crash can fall on a continuum ranging from very simple to very complex, and everything in between. For example, on the simple end of the continuum, consider a driver who backs into a fence post at a very low rate of speed. Minor damage is caused to the bumper. However, no one is hurt, and only one driver is involved. This case is easy to analyze.

On the complicated end, consider a tragic accident in an intersection. The event leads to the death of a passenger, and severe injury to both drivers. Both cars were moving, but the drivers disagreed on their speeds. As a result, both vehicles skidded before the collision, and after the crash, both cars caromed off the roadway. Each driver claims that the other caused the crash. 

For a layperson, finding the truth can seem like an impossible task. But to the right kind of expert, there are important clues that can help lead to the truth. In this article, we will discuss the purpose of an accident reconstructionist in a personal injury trial.

What Is Accident Reconstruction?

Accident reconstruction is a process through which a trained professional investigates, examines, and analyzes various factors to determine what caused a crash. Some of the evidence an accident reconstruction specialist can consider includes:

  • Skid marks (including length)
  • Types and weights of vehicles
  • Location and degree of damage to vehicles
  • Resting location of vehicles
  • Type of pavement
  • Condition of brakes

Using this information and concepts unfamiliar to the average litigant (for example, friction or drag coefficients), the accident reconstructionist can use physics and mathematics to perform calculations and draw conclusions on how the accident occurred.

What Is the Purpose of Accident Reconstruction?

Accident reconstruction can provide law enforcement and individual parties with necessary information concerning a car or truck accident. For example, accident reconstruction can often determine the speeds of the vehicles before, during, and after impact; the point of impact; and the distances traveled by both cars. In many instances, accident reconstruction experts draw conclusions on who was responsible for the accident and what the drivers could have done to avoid the accident. 

These conclusions can have profound implications. For example, in civil litigation, the expert’s opinion can persuade a jury on who caused the accident, leading to the recovery of damages by the other party. 

The information can also be necessary to law enforcement agencies, who may use the information to determine if a driver should be charged with a crime. Many law enforcement agencies employ certified accident reconstruction specialists. 

The Importance of Accident Reconstruction

The federal government recognizes the importance of accident reconstruction. In the mid-1980s, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) provided funding to help develop standards for certification in the field of accident reconstruction. The result was ACTAR, the Accreditation Commission for Traffic Accident Reconstruction.

In Oregon, the Patrol Services Division has a specialized collision reconstruction program. The program’s staffing includes 13 ACTAR-certified reconstruction professionals, as well as Technical Collision Investigators and At Scene Collision Investigators.

In addition, some law enforcement agencies maintain Serious Traffic Accident Reconstruction (STAR) teams. Their reports are sometimes mentioned in newscasts.

Accident Reconstruction and Trial 

In civil lawsuits with serious injury or death, accident reconstruction professionals are often qualified as expert witnesses to provide testimony at trial. These experts testify on topics concerning the specifics of the accident, such as the speeds of the vehicles, the point of impact, and how the accident occurred. A good expert witness can provide persuasive evidence to a jury. However, juries sometimes hear from more than one such expert and sometimes have differing views on how the accident occurred. In these instances, the jury must decide whose testimony is more persuasive.

Call with Questions

Serious car accident cases can be complicated to prepare for trial. Accident reconstruction is just one example of the complexity required to win a high-stakes case. Therefore, we understand that you will likely have questions about your case. Please call us for a free consultation, and we will answer your questions. We have experience trying and winning personal injury cases at Nelson MacNeil Rayfield. We know the only way to keep Oregon’s streets safe is to hold negligent drivers accountable for their actions.