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Accident Reconstruction: How Is It Used in Personal Injury Cases



Accident reconstruction is a scientific process used to recreate a vehicular accident for trial. Accident reconstructionists use detailed investigation and analysis to draw conclusions regarding the causes and events related to an accident. These experts may be hired by counsel and parties to undertake collision analysis and to recreate a collision scenario to identify the causes and contributing aspects of collisions. The roles of drivers, vehicles, roads, weather, and environment are all taken into account during the reconstruction. Physics and engineering go hand in hand. Special computer software often is used, as well. Expert witnesses present the accident reconstruction at trial. It is most common to see the use of reconstruction in cases involving fatalities or serious personal injuries.

The reconstruction is designed to help the trier of fact (judge or jury) make a decision on liability and appropriate amounts of liability to assign to each party. It needs to be performed in a manner that is appropriate for the particular trial, as well as in accordance with preferences and instructions of the judge and perceived interests of the jury, if possible. The most important goal of accident reconstruction is what the party presenting it desires to establish at trial about the accident.

Determine the Purpose

The initial decision to address when developing an accident reconstruction approach is to determine what you desire to demonstrate to the trier of fact at trial. The purpose could be to demonstrate fault or liability—or even to demonstrate a lack of fault. Other legal defenses or standards of conduct, such as recklessness, negligence, contributory or comparative negligence, and impossibility, can also be demonstrated through accident reconstruction. A party must first establish his or her purpose for the accident reconstruction at trial to decide on the best method, visuals and displays, professionals or services to assist in the process. The purpose consideration is primary and will influence all other subsequent decisions in the process to achieve that purpose.

Consider the Audience

The second step in the process is to envision your intended audience. Judges tend to have advanced technical and legal comprehension as compared to a layperson who may sit on the jury panel. The reconstruction needs to be tailored to the appropriate audience. An overly simplistic presentation that bores and disinterests the trier of fact can be just as detrimental as one that is so complex and sophisticated that it goes above the audience members' heads and leaves them baffled. A party likely wants the trier of fact to have a tangible reconstruction display to take with him or her at the time of deliberation. For this reason, a poster, display, computer program, or computerized visual are some of the best modes of presentation for reconstructions.

Remember Rules of Court

Evidence such as visual displays that are used in a trial setting by one party can also be used by the opposing party. The opposing party cannot alter, mark, destroy, or otherwise modify your accident reconstruction visuals or displays. However, they can reference the visuals or displays in their rebuttal of your presentation and argument. It is crucial that any aspect of the reconstruction you use must be a fair and accurate reflection of the accident. If you bend, twist, exaggerate, or skew data, facts, or information to your side, it is likely to blow up on rebuttal when the other side has the opportunity to use your materials.

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