Noteworthy Accident Reconstruction Investigations

 

The following selections highlight a sampling of some uniquely interesting cases I have worked over the years. In many instances these files not only demonstrate unique twists, but likewise they showcase the many facets of my expertise.

Investigation 

 

 

Plaintiff Cases

Grant v. Burtz, Publix

(1989 Broward County, Florida)

This case involved a car and Publix tractor-trailer on the Florida Turnpike. The driver of the car suffered severe head injuries and could give no testimony as to the events of the accident. The question that was posed to me was…How did this happen? The driver of the Publix tractor-trailer and another Publix tractor-trailer driver, who claimed to be an eyewitness to the accident, both gave testimony that I was able to contradict by analyzing the physical evidence at the scene and on the Plaintiff’s vehicle.

The initial offer from the insurance company was $7,000. The jury came back with a verdict of $7 million. Defense Attorneys appealed and lost. Interest amounted to over $1 million. Total amount of the award was over $8 million.

 

 
Brown v. Richards

(1981 Hernando County, Florida)

I would say that this was my first complex case involving “how did it happen?” This is a case without any eyewitnesses that occurred at night involving the decapitation of a driver when his vehicle passed under a flat bed trailer that was hauling heavy machinery.

The trailer was positioned at an angle across a dark road in a rural area. The Defendant driver testified that he was lost and had pulled off the main road onto a dirt road in order to turn around. He said that, as he was just pulling out onto the road, the Plaintiff vehicle approached and ran under his trailer.

I was contacted on this case after the original Accident Reconstructionist suddenly passed away. Fortunately, he had taken 24 photos of the Defendant’s vehicle at the scene of the accident at night, albeit many months post accident. These photos along with the Florida Highway Patrol Traffic Homicide photos and an inspection of the Defendant’s trailer, where I measured the angle of the scratches on the under side of the beams of the trailer allowed me to render an opinion.

I determined that the tractor-trailer was not pulling out from the dirt road but was in fact stopped in an attempt to back into the dirt road when the impact occurred. As further evidence, two scene photos clearly indicated the presence of amber lights that should have been perceived as side marker lights on the trailer. But my inspection of the scene revealed that there were amber reflectors all along the side of the road indicating the presence of a small ditch on the approach path of the Plaintiff.

Going back and looking at the photos, one could not differentiate from the amber side marker lights of the trailer and the amber reflectors along the side of the road, especially since the tractor was facing in the oncoming direction of the Plaintiff. The “wash out” from the headlights of the Defendant’s tractor obscured the trailer, which was positioned across the road.

The jury awarded over $600,000
 

 

Noel v. Hense

(2002 Collier County, Florida)

This case involved a car and a tractor-trailer going in the same direction on a high-speed road. After a sideswipe-type impact, the car left the roadway, rotated 180 degrees, hit a tree and burst into flames. The driver of the car was burned to death.

All of the Florida Highway Patrol reports indicated that the car had encroached into the path of the tractor-trailer and had sideswiped the tractor-trailer at the location they photographed.

After analyzing the physical evidence left on the road, I testified that the original impact between the car and the tractor-trailer did not occur where it was originally thought to be by the Florida Highway Patrol, but that it occurred well over 100 feet prior to that location. I gave 2 depositions in this case. I also had a lengthy preparation with the Plaintiff Attorney just prior to Mediation. The policy limits for the Defendant was $750,000.
 
Case settled at Mediation for $725,000

 


Kropff v. State Dept. of Highway Safety

(1982 Dade County, Florida)

This case involved a violation of Police procedures at the scene of an accident. An FHP Trooper failed to secure the scene while investigating a minor “fender bender” accident. As a result, another accident occurred causing severe facial injuries to a young girl. After my direct examination, the Defense Attorney chose not to cross-examine me. The jury awarded damages in excess of the statutory cap, and a Claims Bill was filed.
 
Award $400,000+
 
 


McWilliams v. Cousins

(1988 Broward County, Florida)
 
This is a case that occurred on a high-speed road. Again, I was responsible for proving how the accident occurred. During deliberations, the jury actually sent a note to the judge asking if they were allowed to award more money than what the Plaintiff Attorney had asked.

Jury awarded in excess of $100,000

 


Greico v. Nabors

(1990 Broward County, Florida)
 
I believe this was the first case in which a Plaintiff Attorney asked me if I could quantify the severity of impact relative to a low speed, minimal, rear-end impact that did not produce alot of damage. In these types of cases, I calculate and testify to the range of numbers relating to the severity of the impact. Then, the treating Doctor testifies whether or not the severity of impact numbers are consistent with the Plaintiff’s injuries.
 
Case settled before trial.

 

 

Defense Cases

Recuero v. Freedom Spirit

(1996 Dade County, Florida)

This was an intersection impact in Miami. There were five occupants in the Plaintiff vehicle, each of which claimed various severe injuries. The total demand was in excess of $2 million.

The only data that was available was an Accident Report and photos of the Plaintiff vehicle since both vehicles were destroyed by the time I was retained by the defense attorney. I was asked to analyze the data and report back to the Defense Attorney about settling the case.

I prepared a Photo Analysis documenting my observations. I had determined that not only was the damage inconsistent with the alleged intersection impact, but the damage also indicated several other impacts to the vehicle that absolutely could not have been caused by the impact in question. I also determined that many of the occupant’s injuries were also inconsistent.
 
After the plaintiff attorney read my photo analysis and observations, he decided to forego his $2 million demand and settle for $1,000 for all 5 occupants.

 


Illingworth v. Lobean

(1982 Dade County, Florida)
 
The Plaintiff was rear ended by the Defendant in an impact that was less than moderate. My client, the insurance company, was willing to pay for the rear end damage. However, the Plaintiff thought he was going to get a new car if the damage was extensive enough to result in a total loss.

I was asked to look at the vehicle in the tow yard and, if possible, make a determination as to how much damage was caused by the rear end impact, as well as comment on all the damage that existed on the Plaintiff’s vehicle.

I determined that the Plaintiff vehicle did in fact have rear end damage but it also had many, many areas of damage that indicated other forms of contact damage (i.e. evidence of shoe imprints to the doors, which caused substantial indentations, and indentations to the hub caps from a lateral force, etc.).

It was obvious that the Plaintiff had “beat up” his vehicle in an effort to collect more money from the insurance company than he was due. I testified at trial utilizing over four typewritten pages of notes depicting all the damage that was not caused by the rear end impact.

The jury came back with a verdict for the Defense.

 


Levine v. Black & Tan

(2004 Palm Beach County, Florida)
 
This case involved a tour bus turning left in front of a vehicle. The Plaintiff was a passenger on the bus. The insurance company did not want to retain an Accident Reconstructionist on this case, so the Attorney retained me himself to act as his “consultant.” My only function was to prepare the Attorney to take the opposing Expert’s deposition.

I prepared 10 pages of questions dealing with various topics on Accident Reconstruction, which were to be asked at deposition and I had several telephone conferences with the Attorney. After the case had settled, the Attorney called to thank me and let me know that insurance company thought that his deposition questions were very good.

Case settled for only a fraction of the Demand

 


Brown v. USA

(1993 Broward County, Florida)

This case was tried in Federal Court. A bicyclist pulled out in front of a U.S. Postal vehicle. This started out as a typical trial in which I testified on direct examination then on cross-examination. But after cross-examination was concluded, the Federal Magistrate asked me a question, then another and another and another. It seemed as if I answered more of the Federal Magistrate’s questions than I answered on direct or cross-examination. I actually gave a little seminar on accident reconstruction to a Federal Magistrate while on the witness stand during this trial.

Defense verdict

 


Accursso v. Allstate

(Palm Beach County, Florida 2002)
 
This case involved a Plaintiff bringing an Uninsured Motorist claim against his carrier for herniated lumbar discs. He said he was rear ended by a hit and run vehicle as he backed out of his driveway and started to go forward. There was no doubt as to the Plaintiff’s injuries, but the insurance carrier asked me to evaluate whether or not the injuries were consistent with the vehicle damage.

After inspecting the vehicle, I determined that a narrow object had caused the damage to the rear of the Plaintiff’s vehicle. I also found tiny pieces of wood embedded in the molding of the rear bumper. The Plaintiff had several trees on his property, and it was obvious that one of the trees had been recently cut down. I rendered the opinion that the Plaintiff had backed into a tree and had caused the damage. After learning of my opinion, the Plaintiff changed his story. Both versions of the Plaintiff’s story contradicted the physical evidence.

After my deposition, the case was dismissed.

 


v. State Farm

(Broward County, Florida 1988)
 
In this case, the Defendant failed to yield the right of way from a stop sign. Calculations indicated that the Plaintiff was not traveling in excess of the speed limit, nor could he have avoided the impact. The jury awarded $99,000 to the Plaintiff but then reduced the verdict to $9,000 because the Plaintiff had failed to utilize a functional and operational seat belt.

I calculated and subsequently testified that the Plaintiff’s injuries would have been mitigated if he had utilized a functional and operational restraint system relevant to the impact severity levels at the time of the accident.

Final award $9,000
 

 


Criminal Defense

State of Florida v. Johnny Jones

(1985 Dade County, Florida)
 
The Defendant was charged with Vehicular Homicide when he ran off the road, struck a house and killed a little girl who was sleeping in her bedroom. Many areas of physical evidence analysis were involved in this case. Interestingly enough, I never testified at the trial. I had prepared questions for the Prosecution’s Expert Witness and thoroughly conferenced with the Defense Attorney about my questions.

After cross-examining the Prosecution’s Expert, the Defense Attorney moved for a Directed Verdict.

Judge granted the Motion for Directed Verdict

 


State of Florida v. Davis

(1985 Dade County, Florida)
 
This was a single vehicle fatality in which the driver’s side of the vehicle struck a narrow object and was cut completely in half just behind the “B” Pillar. There were two occupants in the vehicle at the time of the impact.

When Fire Rescue arrived, there was an occupant lying in the road and an occupant in the driver’s seat. The Police charged the occupant in the driver’s seat with Vehicular Homicide.

I testified that the vehicle dynamics and physical evidence indicated that the occupant who was lying in the road was in fact the driver of the vehicle at the time of impact.

There were other issues of my testimony that the trial Judge would not let the jury hear so the Defense Attorney did a proffer of my testimony outside the presence of the jury to preserve issues on Appeal. The jury came back and convicted the Defendant. The case was appealed.

Appellate Court did not order a new trial; they ordered the immediate release of the Defendant

 


State of Florida v. Wheatley

(1989 Broward County, Florida)
 
In this case, after I analyzed the data, I had a lengthy conference with the Defense Attorney, advised him of my opinions and prepped him for his conference with the Prosecutor. During the conference between the Defense Attorney and the Prosecutor, the Prosecutor decided to drop the charges.

All charges were dismissed by the State Attorney

 

 

Criminal Prosecution

State of Florida v.Higgins

             (1987 Hernando County, Florida)
 
This was a head-on impact. There were issues relating to which vehicle crossed the centerline, DUI, excessive speed. But the main issue was: who was actually driving the Defendant vehicle? The Defendant and his girlfriend were the only occupants in the vehicle and there were no eyewitnesses.

The girlfriend testified that she was the driver, not the Defendant. Physical evidence, vehicle dynamics and the injuries to both the Defendant and his girlfriend clearly indicated that the Defendant was the driver at the time of the accident.

When I testified, I noticed that there was not an empty seat in the courtroom, and people were even standing in the back of the courtroom. Later, I found out why. Let me just say that the community wanted the Defendant to be put in jail for a long time. I didn’t think that there was anything exceptionally interesting about my testimony on direct or cross-examination. The jury simply heard all of my opinions on the case.
But what happened after I finished testifying was surprising. The moment that the Attorney said “no further questions,” the courtroom literally erupted with the gallery standing on their feet, cheering, clapping, etc. As I tried to make my way to the door people were still cheering, clapping, slapping me on the back and shaking my hand.

Guilty verdict

 


State of Florida v. Phillips

(2002 St. Lucie County, Florida)

This was a single vehicle impact involving a fatal injury to the passenger. The Defendant vehicle rotated, stuck a narrow object, and the passenger was killed. The Prosecutor requested that I analyze several phases of the accident sequence.

After I had analyzed the data and formulated opinions, the Prosecutor and the Defense Attorney conferred. During this conference the Prosecutor advised the Defense Attorney of my opinions and offered a plea agreement.
 
Defendant took the plea

 

 

Miami Dade County Grand Jury, Miami, Florida 

Since one cannot divulge any facts or circumstances pursuant to the admonition of the Grand Jury, I will simply state that I am one of only a few Accident Reconstructionists to have had the opportunity to testify as an Expert Witness in the field of Accident Reconstruction before the Grand Jury.

My testimony was at the request of the State Attorney at that time, Janet Reno, who is the former Attorney General of the United States.