When Is An Accident Reconstruction Expert’s Testimony Excluded in Florida?

Critical to some Florida car accident cases is the testimony of an expert on accident reconstruction. Often it is unclear what actually happened–the parties either don’t remember or have grossly different accounts of the events. In those cases, an accident reconstruction expert can shed light on all that is unknown by using concrete, certain facts. The other side may not want that expert to testify. When is it appropriate for the court to prohibit the testimony or accompanying evidence?

In a recent case, a couple was driving north in Florida and stopped at a stop sign at an intersection. As the driver turned left, his car hit the plaintiff’s vehicle as it approached from the left, causing the plaintiff’s car to spin and hit a palm tree. The plaintiff was thrown out of his vehicle and suffered significant injury.

The single driver sued the couple, claiming that the husband’s negligence in entering into his lane of traffic caused the crash and his injuries. The defendants argued that the plaintiff caused the accident by going over the posted 35 mph speed limit, a fact they supported on the basis of the husband stopping at a stop sign and not seeing the plaintiff. They also pointed to the physical damage, the final resting point of the vehicles and the plaintiff’s failure to wear a seatbelt as evidence that his injuries were his own fault.

The defendants also wanted to introduce an accident reconstruction expert’s testimony on the speed and direction of the driver’s body within the car. His analysis was based on a government computer program that also produced a video simulation. Based on the program, the expert was willing to testify that the plaintiff was driving 57 mph.

The plaintiff made a motion to block both the expert’s testimony and the video simulation, arguing that the cars in the video were different kinds than those in the accident. He also argued whether the program had been developed using accidents with the same specific features as this accident, including the vehicle hitting the tree.

The expert was also willing to contradict the plaintiff’s expert who planned to testify that the accident caused the seat belt to disengage. Again, this opinion was based on the computer simulation program. The plaintiff sought to exclude this, too, arguing that the evidence was being presented in order to show the plaintiff was thrown from the car. He argued that whether he was ejected from the car was a question of fact.

The trial court ruled to exclude the video simulation and also prevented the defense expert from offering opinions as to speed and the seatbelt theory. It argued that the prejudice of showing the video simulation outweighed its value as proof and the expert’s methods were not generally accepted in the engineering community. The judge concluded that the simulation’s results might be right, but a jury might place unfair weight on it.

The jury returned a verdict for the plaintiff, but found him 25% liable for his own injuries. The couple appealed on the grounds that it was error for the trial judge to exclude the evidence from their accident reconstruction expert.

The appellate court explained that it would defer to the trial court’s explanation that the simulation might unduly lead to the jury deferring the expert’s opinion. On the other hand, it explained that the opinions of the expert were formed using scientifically accepted calculations involving the weights and distances of this specific accident.

The fact that different vehicles were involved in the simulation versus real life was irrelevant and “purely visual.” The appellate court reversed the lower court, requiring a new trial.

If you are injured in a car accident caused by someone else, call the experienced personal injury attorneys at Friedman, Rodman & Frank toll-free for a free consultation at (877) 448-8585.

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Birth Injuries and Medical Negligence in Florida, August 8, 2013
When Can a Plaintiff Ask for a New Trial in Florida, July 26, 2013
Proving Wage Loss in Florida Personal Injury Cases, July 12, 2013

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