Your employee is driving in the right lane when a car rushes past, then swerves in front to make it to an exit ramp. The car brakes hard 15 feet in front. With little reaction time, your worker hits it. The police cite your driver for following too closely, because the car was struck from behind.
Can you defend him?
Such incidents, not as rare as we might hope, can be recreated by today's breed of accident reconstructionists, also called forensic engineers. Although they weren't at the scene, they can assemble evidence and, using computer simulation, present a replication of the incident that will stand up in court.
Recreating The Scene
Forensic engineers examine every aspect of the incident. They review crash scene photographs, making special note of fixed reference points such as sign posts, guardrail posts, and even cracks or patches in the pavement. These not only set the scene, but they also serve as references for subsequent surveys of the area.
This is why it's good to have a disposable camera in the glove box or cab of your vehicle. If you're involved in an accident, take as many photos as possible. Include several overviews and close-ups of damage from different angles. The photos can help your case.
Whenever possible, engineers will examine the wrecked vehicles. But with or without the original vehicles, forces that cause damage can be determined through a process called “finite element analysis,” which includes breaking down materials into small elements and analyzing the physical stresses that result in observed damage. An engineering firm may buy and test parts and tweak the proprietary computer program many times, crumpling fenders, bumpers, trunks, and doors until they recreate the damage done at the scene.
The engineers also conduct “failure analysis,” a process of examining failed parts to determine the nature of stresses that cause the failure. This enables them to determine if the parts were damaged or weakened before the incident or because of it.
All pertinent paperwork also is reviewed. For larger trucks, this includes drivers' vehicle inspection reports, required in parts 392.7, 396.11, and 396.13 of 49CFR, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. If discrepancies are reported in a post-trip report, there must be a record that they were addressed. If not, that can be used against you.