“My car was not damaged, but I still hurt almost every day.” We at Turbak Law Office hear this often. And in other instances, vehicles are totaled, and everyone walks away and is at work in a few days. Yet many people think that low property damage means no injury. Nothing could be further from the truth.
In fact, hundreds of thousands of people sustain neck, back, and brain injuries every year in the United States from low speed, low property damage collisions. Studies have shown that low-speed crashes can cause whiplash injury including debilitating injury.
Worse still, many insurance defense lawyers capitalize on this misconception by showing juries pictures of undamaged bumpers. Many lawyers use this, combined with showing social media posts of people trying to enjoy family weddings or pumpkin carvings with children, as evidence that the person was not really hurt. Thus, it is important to understand that an injury can be worse than the vehicle damage suggests.
Equating vehicle damage with injury
There are many problems with equating vehicle damage with injury in any meaningful way. First, it is difficult to determine or recreate the force involved with any collision. Speeds are often unknown or contested, vehicle mass is often unknown, and braking time and distance are also often unknown.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has said that they do not collect any data that would be useful in determining impact speed from bumpers. Many parameters affect this, including velocity, impact angles, crush resistance. Metallurgical fatigue also affects how bumpers behave during an impact.
Second, even if these things are known, there is still an outstanding question of how much energy was transferred to the occupants. There have been few tests to research the energy effects from crashes at less than 30 mph. Yet many collisions do not include that much force. If you ever been rear-ended by a go-cart, you can imagine the damage of getting rear-ended by a vehicle going the same speed.
Moreover, even if you know the speed, energy, and how much energy was transferred, the amount of energy necessary to injure any given person varies greatly. Women, for example, are more likely to be injured than men. Height, age, weight, and medical history can also influence whether or not an injury occurs at any given speed.
Using this information in court
What is more is that car bumpers are actually designed to reduce physical damage in front and rear-end collisions. But they do not serve as to protect occupants. Still, courts often allow the admission of photographs, even with all these holes in the evidence, because it feels like common sense. And in the average auto-crash case, the cost of hiring experts and re-creating the forces and transfers, if it is even possible, outweigh the amount of money at issue. Thus, tricky insurance companies and their lawyers are left with the benefit of being able to show “low damage” photos.
During one recent incident, there was evidence that the insurance adjuster actually popped the bumper back out before photographing it, presumably so the lawyer could show the jury no bumper damage. Not wanting the jury to hear about an insurance witness potentially tampering with evidence, the attorney agreed to withdraw the photographic evidence.
For more information
Do not go into court without an experienced property damage lawyer by your side to help navigate these nuanced areas of law. Contact Turbak Law Office today at (866) 305-2015 to schedule a consultation.