Why are Accident Engineering Reports Incomplete And/ Or Misleading?

By: Patrick Sundby, Accident Investigator

Specializing in Low Speed and Catastrophic Crashes

 

From my experience as an accident engineer, there are several reasons engineering and accident reconstruction reports are problematic.  Let’s address the first and biggest issue, cost.  Many attorneys don’t realize the true value of cases because they deal with doctors who often doesn’t know how to document the patient’s injuries properly, then there are the Colossus issues that most also do not handle in their documentation.  This is a huge advantage to the insurance company who have banked on the sloppiness and ignorance of the entire medical-legal community.  However, there is a growing number of doctors and attorneys who do know.  If you’re reading this and should follow Dr. Mark Studin teachings, you have an advantage over most of the industry as you also know how those insurance algorithms are used to devalue a case and how documentation on your part as a doctor is critical in refuting it.

In this sense, the insurance company knows they will pay, a majority of the time, a minimal amount for a collision even if the case should have a much higher value due to the nature of the injuries.  The insurance companies know this for several reasons, but the biggest reason is cost, not for them but you.

For the sake of discussion let’s say the average case settles for $15,000.  If the collision specialist costs $2,000 to $5,000 (in addition to the doctors and the other specialists), this is an expense which cannot or chooses not to be absorbed by solo attorney’s, smaller and even larger legal firms. The insurance company knows this and use it whenever it presents itself.

Why can a “deep pocketed” insurance company afford to pay a specialist on a smaller case?  There are few reasons but the two biggest are the insurance companies can absorb the cost of a smaller cases AND the consultants will do the work, in some cases, pro bono, as good faith towards the client to get more cases.

Obviously, if the attorney cannot make any money they will not take the case and paying for a collision professional is a significant factor in this decision, especially if the defense already has one.  If you, the doctor, are also the collision expert, this greatly reduces the attorney’s costs per case while making you more valuable as a resource AND affords the attorney the opportunity to take on more cases.

The cost concerns lead to a second problem, identifying inaccuracies.  I have yet to meet an accident engineering defense specialist who will explain the shortfall of a case because it will expose their inaccuracies and will not bode well for them regarding future referrals. MANY low speed collisions have gaps which must be filled in with vetted data and very carefully chosen.  The use of generalized data (which is the norm in the industry to use) is very dangerous as it makes the gap for results reliability too wide. The results will have too much margin for error and that margin of error is often the difference between prevailing or being on the losing side and all too often accepted as accurate, but is not.

Consider the following screen graphic:

In this section we discuss why time is a critical factor.  In the picture above, we illustrate a train, which collides with a barrier at 100 miles per hour and crushes.  The associated math demonstrates how increasing the time decreases acceleration (see circled numbers).  In this example, there is no room for doubt regarding injury as its speed and acceleration is well beyond accepted thresholds.  What if we change the speeds so they are very close to those injury thresholds?

Consider the second example, here the speed of the train represents final approach to a stop barrier where the engineer is a little careless and bumps the stop barrier.  What is important to note about this visual is the time.  If we double the time (from .05 to .1) the final g force is halved (resulting in 2.267 g’s). What if there were studies we could cite which say the time needed for a train to final stop is .075 seconds?  The first time value of .05 would be too short, the second value of .1 would be too big, and both don’t fit the cited studies.

In this example the time variable changes a very small amount but the resulting change in the g forces may no longer be enough to substantiate a claim for injury.  This is why the justification for any values assigned is so important.  If you don’t know why the variables are there and why or how they were chosen, they you don’t know if they are accurate or not. A small deviation is often the arbiter for success or failure in a case in determining if there were sufficient transference of forces required for bodily injury.

Cost and inaccuracies are two of the problems commonly faced by attorneys regarding collision reconstruction. For doctors, there is now a recognized course [CLICK HERE] to give you the training to be an accident engineer/reconstructionist and for the lawyer, when there is a defense engineer, you MUST have someone dissecting the math to ensure accuracy because usually the “guestimates” used will work against you in settlement or litigation. 

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Accident Scenes & Police Reports

By: Patrick Sundby, Accident Investigator

Specializing in Low Speed and Catastrophic Crashes

 

There is a myriad of questions which centered around accident scenes and police reports.  We will address why reports exist, how conclusions are made, and what you should take away from a report and the role of the police officer as an investigator. This topic can be broken down into a lot of different categories; here we will focus on general reporting and collision analysis.

Why do police take general reports?  The most brutal answer is because no one will remember the details in two days, much less two years and they will argue it constantly; but it’s also because society needs a third party who should be an impartial fact evaluator.  “Should” is emphasized, but we need to describe what an impartial evaluator of fact is in the context of this writing.  Within this definition we are assuming the officer / deputy has sufficient training to determine what evidence plays into the case.  Imagine if you went to a call for domestic assault between a husband and wife.  Upon arrival the wife tells you the husband is using drugs and sexually assaulting a young child.  When you question the husband he denies the claim and has the wife’s prescription bottle in his hand – the medication’s listed side effect is “hallucinations”.  This is important relevant evidence the law enforcement officer should weigh in his or her decision. 

We are also going to assume the officer / deputy has no bias or stereotype towards the parties involved OR they do but recognize it and adjust accordingly.  Imagine if the officer from above is female and just went through a difficult divorce.  Does her personal life have an impact on believing the husband?  If it does, what does should she do about it?

Police write collision reports for the state (in which they operate) departments of transportation.  The report is designed to collect information regarding roadway design, operator error, alcohol and /or drug use, etc.  While important, one of the last concerns is for the report to document for the parties involved the specifics of the event.

With utilizing report templates, experience, training, and bias can significantly affect collision reports.  Why?

There are many reasons police have errors in their reports, but by far, the main reason is lack of training.  In order to make a police officer, candidates attend an academy which averages six months, some are longer.  Typically, collision investigation for basic recruit training is less than a day’s worth of training.  In this time the instructor needs to cover everything from scene security to traffic patterns to general hazards.  Most training doesn’t include: skid mark interpretation, speed calculations, principle direction of force, drag factors, etc.  In fact, unless the student after graduation and long into his or her career chooses to attend further training there will be no updates, refreshers, revisions, or continuations to the academy foundation.

Specialty training is necessary to understand the concepts and the physics behind a motor vehicle collision and these are not part of the basic academy curriculum. Therefore, when determining causality and/or specifics of the accident it is critical to ascertain the extent of training of the police officer.

To address the last point, what you should take away from a collision report, we will discuss a real case brought to me by one of you.

A while back I was contacted by a doctor, his family member was involved in a collision where she was rear ended by a truck in heavy traffic; twice.  The family member told the investigating officer their vehicle was established in a lane of travel with the truck behind it.  The truck then struck the vehicle while in traffic twice.  The truck driver told the investigating officer he didn’t know where the vehicle he struck was, but he was coming onto the highway via an “on ramp” and thought the vehicle attempted to pass him in the shoulder and cut in front of him which is why he struck it.

The investigating officer acknowledged there were no marks in the roadway to establish where the event occurred but he did write the report in favor of the truck driver. When I inquired about his reasoning and his background he informed me:

“I wrote the report in favor of the truck driver based on the damage to the vehicles although I had no formal training on damage interpretation and event correlation and could not establish through evidence, where the vehicles were in the lanes of travel.” While the gut reaction is to blame the officer, in this case the municipality who employs him is the root problem.  This agency has failed to train the officer and provide him guidelines to work within.

All that can be taken away from the crash itself is the truck rear ended the vehicle and it likely occurred as the vehicle driver described where the truck driver admitted not knowing where the vehicle was to begin with.

So what do you take away from a police collision report?  Only those facts which can be verified by witness, corroborated evidence, or soundly concluded by the two. The police are fact gatherers, not “causality arbiters” and should be utilized as such. The caveat is there are police experts who have advanced training in accident investigation, crash dynamics and accident reconstruction. My training lends me to be expert in all of those fields, but the average police officer is not and should not be considered as one.

Patrick Sundby has decades of experience in the automotive industry including several years in law enforcement collision investigation. He has also been a driver training and firearms instructor in law enforcement and a police officer for 9 years before specializing in accident investigations. He has had the privilege of participating in both learning and teaching at Prince William County Criminal Justice Training Academy in Virginia and studied at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Georgia. His specialty is low speed and catastrophic crashes and has testified over 500 times at various level. He can be reached at 571-265-8076 orThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Crash Dynamics and Accident Reconstruction Q & A's

By: Patrick Sundby, Accident Investigator

Specializing in Low Speed and Catastrophic Crashes

 

1. “How do airbags work and why do they deploy in some cases and not others.”

Almost all airbag equipped vehicles contain an airbag control module.  The module monitors various vehicle systems and has a predetermined threshold for deployment; in simpler terms, this means the collision has to meet certain settings to deploy an airbag.  While each car brand’s system is specifically different from the next the concept is the same.

The module constantly monitors a vehicles speed and when a collision occurs the module can tell the change in speed is happening faster than if the car was slowing by brakes alone.  IF the collision, as calculated by the module, is extreme enough it will deploy the appropriate airbag(s).  The module has the final say in why an airbag is deployed, this is truly vehicle specific as well as module software & hardware dependent.

The module can knows, via onboard accelerometers, of changes in the vehicles direction and speed.  The module constantly calculates these changes and when it “sees” a change beyond preset thresholds it begins to monitor, very closely, the changes (this is called algorithm enablement).  If it determines the changes meet the criteria for airbag deployment it will deploy the appropriate airbag(s).

Many vehicles also have failsafe sensors mounted in the vehicle which are designed as a secondary mechanical and/or electrical triggering system.  These sensors are mounted on the front of the vehicle, usually under the radiator, when crushed or damaged they force an airbag deployment.    

Occasionally, someone will ask if how a vehicle knows if a seat is occupied.  The driver’s seat is obvious, beyond this, the front passenger seat has a pressure sensor in it which can tell when a predetermined amount of weight is on it, and the rest of the seats use the seatbelt latch (vehicle specific).  When you are driving a vehicle the module also monitors the status of seatbelts and the pressure sensors, it uses this data to make the best decision possible about which airbags to deploy and when.

 

2. I’m often asked about a specialists report, but the most common subset questions are about the lack of support for findings in the report.  I have chosen to address this question because it’s of personal & professional interest to me.

“I got this collision expert’s report but there doesn’t appear to be any explanation for his findings, is this normal?”

Yes and No.  Yes, this happens; no, it’s not acceptable standard.  One of the reasons I have chosen to work with Dr. Studin is his tenacious commitment to research.  If you have seen Mark present you know he has scholarly research to back up his points.  Mark and his colleagues have been through accredited and standardized training based on a lot of scholarly research.  All professional fields of post primary education are all based in accredited & scholarly formal standards. 

Collison reconstruction specialists are no different.  While not necessary part of an undergraduate or graduate program, the training and education they have is based on the same accredited & scholarly formal training and education - because of this correlation, the same standard should be applied to collision reconstruction specialists.  Scholarly research is based on objective methods of testing and investigation, peer review, and rigorous scrutiny before being accepted. 

When an expert offers an opinion without citing supporting scholarly documentation it’s not worthless, but rather it stands alone; it is only his opinion.  Conversely, when an expert offers and opinion with appropriate supporting scholarly documentation, all the work, expertise, and research is offered with his opinion.   

3. Often times an appraisal for repairs is used to justify “low speed” by citing minimal costs.  There are a few points regarding them to consider so the question is: 

“Is the listed cost on the appraisal an accurate reflection of damage?”

The short easy answer is “no”.  The long answer starts with understanding who did the appraisal and what is there background?  Usually, appraisers are trained by the insurance company – as such, minimizing the costs and expenses of repair is in the insurance company’s interests.  Secondly, most appraisers do not disassemble a vehicle to determine if there is any hidden damage, particularly in low speed collisions.

The next problem is when replacement parts are needed where do they come from?  Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) parts cost substantially more than Equal or Like Quality (ELQ) parts, as such, ELQ parts are the preferred choice of insurance companies.  It would cost the industry millions more to use OEM parts instead of ELQ parts when making repairs.  Along this same line, the quality of paint also varies.  Paint manufacturers offer paint systems which will meet the OEM specifications and are very durable paints, however, they also offer more economically friendly paint which is not as durable or closely color matched to the original, and as expected, it costs less.

The last problem to discuss is job downtime.  The longer a vehicle is in for repairs the more it costs the insurance company in rental fees.  While a shop can, and will, have a minimum amount of time to fix the vehicle the insurance company is going to keep them on this timeframe and constantly press for the vehicle to be completed.  Sometimes this drive can create an environment where the repair facility will sacrifice quality of workmanship to complete the job faster for a better profit margin.

The above variables greatly dictate the final number making it too subjective for a reliable point to support the threshold of injury; in other terms, the use of “low cost” as a justification for no injury is not appropriate as no causality relationship exists.  If a breakdown of the repair bill is provided, you could objectively price the repair parts and effectively show the bias towards reducing the cost of the repair.  

 

Patrick Sundby has decades of experience in the automotive industry including several years in law enforcement collision investigation. He has also been a driver training and firearms instructor in law enforcement and a police officer for 9 years before specializing in accident investigations. He has had the privilege of participating in both learning and teaching at Prince William County Criminal Justice Training Academy in Virginia and studied at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Georgia. His specialty is low speed and catastrophic crashes and has testified over 500 times at various level. He can be reached at 571-265-8076 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Tire Skid Marks & Causality

By: Patrick Sundby, Accident Investigator

Specializing in Low Speed and Catastrophic Crashes

Mark Studin DC, FASBE(C), DAAPM, DAAMLP

 

Not only do tires play a critical role in the performance of your vehicle, but a lot of information can be garnered about what happened before, during, and after a crash.  We will explore tire marks and, generally, what those marks tell us.

 

First let’s talk about where the marks come from. Skid marks are created by the intense thermal relationship of a tire against the roadway surface during extreme stresses put on the tire, a simpler way to say this is a tire will “marks” when it nears, or exceeds, the limits of its relationship with the roadway.  These marks happen because the oils in the roadway and/or the tire(s) are brought to the surface and “burned or melted” to the roadway.  If a tire is heated enough it will be obvious as the surface of the tire will have changed, it will have a flat spot and obvious abrasions.

 

Types of skid marks.

 

There are three specific types of marks we will discuss, these are the most common four wheeled car and light duty truck marks. (Other vehicles, such as motorcycles, have different specific marks)

 

Light to dark or dark to light.

 

All marks can be put into two categories when referencing the direction of the vehicle which made them.  Light to dark marks (in the direction the vehicle was traveling) support a vehicle making the marks during some form of deceleration (extra points if you wanted to read “negative acceleration”).  Dark to light marks (again, in the direction the vehicle was traveling) support a vehicle making the marks during some form of acceleration, usually excessive wheel spin.

 

Darker in the middle, darker on the outsides, or uniform.

 

Marks which are darker in the middle indicate a tire which is overinflated, conversely marks which are darker on the outside edges indicate a tire which is underinflated.  Marks which are uniform in nature indicate a properly inflated tire.

 

Please read the 2 articles on tires to understand the significance of either over or underinflated tires.

 

Tire Pressure 1

Tire Pressure 2

 

ABS verses standard marks.

 

ABS (Anti-lock Brake System) marks are lighter than standard marks and have more tire tread definition in them, Non-ABS marks rarely have tread definition in them.  ABS marks are also shorter when compared to non ABS marks from a vehicle traveling at the same speed.

 

What else skid marks can tell us?

 

As you have already discovered skid marks can tell us about the tires inflation, ABS or non-ABS braking, and direction of travel.  Skid marks can also tell us something else, when and where the decision to brake occurred.  This is perhaps the most under-utilized and under explored aspect of collision reconstruction – even more so in lower speed collisions.  Some basic calculations can be made, using various aspects of the skid marks, to determine where the driver made the decision to brake.

 

Why is this so important?  Consider the following illustration.

This drawing is a classic teaching example used to show the value of skid marks.  Consider this scenario, the blue car says he had the green light and was hit in the intersection. The red car says he also had the green light and saw the blue car so he braked hard. There is no other evidence or witnesses to further determine the cause.

 

 

Now the student would be asked to calculate the position of the cars when the decision to brake was made using the start of the skid marks, ultimately this would place the vehicles in the position labeled 1.

 

Now the obvious problem with the red car’s scenario now that we have used the skid marks to determine where he decided to brake, a building blocks his view of the blue car (position 1 for both vehicles).  This begs the question as to why did he decide then to brake?  The answer, the light was red for the red car and the driver was braking for traffic light, not the blue car making the red car culpable in this scenario as the physical evidence verifies the “at fault” party.

 

 

Another valuable piece of information is that rubber is biodegradable and there are naturally occurring nitrogen based bacteria that “eat” rubber. These bacteria are aggressive and will eat rubber in most environments, therefore if you are attempting to determine causality and the “at fault” party, it is in your best interest to take pictures of the roadway as soon as possible. Often skid marks are gone in a relatively short amount of time.

 

 

Skid marks are a valuable piece of evidence and a great tool for determining many factors in a collision; it’s very important none of them are overlooked or underestimated.

 

Patrick Sundby has decades of experience in the automotive industry including several years in law enforcement collision investigation. He has also been a driver training and firearms instructor in law enforcement and a police officer for 9 years before specializing in accident investigations. He has had the privilege of participating in both learning and teaching at Prince William County Criminal Justice Training Academy in Virginia and studied at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Georgia. His specialty is low speed and catastrophic crashes and has testified over 500 times at various level. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 571-265-8076.This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">
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Dr. Mark Studin is an adjunct associate professor of chiropractic at the University of Bridgeport College of Chiropractic, an Adjunct Professor of Clinical Sciences at Texas Chiropractic College and a clinical presenter for the State of New York at Buffalo, School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences for postdoctoral education, teaching MRI spine interpretation and triaging trauma cases. He is also the president of the Academy of Chiropractic, teaching doctors how to interface with the legal community (www.DoctorsPIProgram.com). He teaches MRI interpretation and triaging trauma cases to doctors of all disciplines nationally, and studies trends in health care on a national scale (www.TeachDoctors.com). He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or at 631-786-4253.

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