Like any legal field, personal injury law is becoming more and more dominated by experts. The law does not allow attorneys or witnesses to speak on issues on which they are not experts, and when it comes to questions of medicine, or mechanics, or how businesses operate, or science, someone with extensive experience in a particular field is needed.
More and more, experts are becoming highly specialized, to the point that many trials will involve multiple experts, even for what is seen as a “simple” case. One such expert that is often overlooked, but who can be a persuasive witness to a jury, is the biometrics expert.
Let’s take a typical rear-end car accident (to the extent that any accident can be considered typical—we all know they are each unique in their own way). What experts do we need for the victim to prove his or her case?
We know we need medical experts—doctors—to give testimony as to the injuries the victim sustained. We also may need engineers to reconstruct the accident scene. They may evaluate brake marks on the road and the speed of the cars, and use calculations to determine which car was where or how much time a driver had to anticipate and potentially avoid an accident. They may also be able to testify as to how fast a car was going when it hit the car in front of it.
What about testimony about what happens to a human body when a car traveling at X miles per hour crashes into another car from behind? How do we know what forces coming from what direction will cause the human body to do what? A simple statement like “being hit from behind at 30 miles per hour is enough to make the human head snap back with enough force to rupture a disc,” is actually one that is based on biometrics, and may require an expert.
The Biometrics Expert
That expert may have to be a biometrics expert. Biometrics experts, many of whom may also have medical or engineering degrees, testify as to how much stress parts of the human body can take before those parts or systems fail.
Many doctors may be able to diagnose a lumbar strain, but do not have the expertise to state how hard the human body needs to be hit from behind in order to cause tissues in the lumbar to tear (practically, they may in fact have that expertise, but not sufficiently for the opinions to meet the legal standards required to be entered into a trial). The biometrics expert is needed for that.
Biometrics experts form their opinions based on a number of factors. One, of course, may be the opinion of other experts, such as an engineer, who may testify that the car hit the victim at a certain speed and from a certain direction.
They also can form their opinions from “black boxes” that are in most modern cars, which record data about the car’s speed and direction. Those boxes have crucial data which must be retained by a victim’s attorney before it is overwritten or destroyed.
The victim’s own testimony can also be important. Was the victim in the front seat or back seat? How far back was the seat back leaning? Did the airbag deploy? Was the victim’s head turned at the time of impact? These are all questions that will affect the biometric expert’s opinions.
Why the Testimony is Important
Biometric testimony can be vitally important because many jurors may falsely equate damage to a vehicle to damage to a human body. In other words, they may believe that minor damage to a car could not result in major damage to a human body. They may see a picture of a fender with a small dent and not believe that someone could suffer a herniated disc from such an impact.
A jury may also hear “small” speeds, and not believe injury could occur. For example, a juror who hears that someone was hit by a car going “only” 15 miles per hour may believe that nobody could be injured in such a collision. But a biometrics expert helps a juror understand how this is possible.
Often, victims may have injuries to elbows, knees, or ankles, where jurors do not readily understand how they are sustained in a rear-end car accident. A biometrics expert can help in that area, as well.
Biometrics experts are not just for car accidents. They can be used in products liability cases to explain how a product failure to a helmet, or a ladder, could cause a certain type of injury. They can also be used for hypotheticals—for example, to testify what would have happened to the victim’s body if a product was used or designed a certain way, or if a car was hit from a different direction or speed.
Of course, biometric experts can be used defensively, as well, and often are, when victims sustain injuries that are not commonly associated with accidents. For example, while uncommon, TMJ, or heart attacks, or loosening of internal screws or implants, have been attributed to trauma sustained in car accidents. Defendants often employ these experts to convince a jury that an accident could not have caused these kinds of injuries.
Because they can be persuasive, victims need to be aware when a defendant intends to use a biometrics expert. Additionally, if the defendant does not have such an expert, a victim needs to make sure that a defendant’s expert engineers or doctors are not providing bioengineering testimony that they are not qualified to provide.
Make sure you have all the experts that you need to prove damages in difficult car accident cases if and when your case goes to trial. Contact Brill & Rinaldi today about a free consultation to discuss your case.