John R. Yannaccone, P.E., Senior Mechanical Engineer
Case Synopsis: Early one morning, a motorist was traveling in the right lane of a roadway equipped with red-light cameras. As he approached an intersection, a pole supporting a red-light camera fell over and struck the hood of his vehicle. The impact caused moderate damage to the hood of the vehicle, and the driver sustained injuries as a result of the incident. It was believed the camera pole fell due to prior damage which had weakened it. The motorist retained counsel and pursued a claim against the driver’s under/uninsured motorist policy which would only be required to pay if the incident was caused by another motor vehicle. The insurance carrier denied the claim as they believed there was no evidence to support that the camera pole fell as the result of prior contact by an unknown vehicle.
Expert Analysis: By the time the plaintiff had retained an attorney, the fallen pole had been replaced and the damaged components had been discarded. Though a physical inspection was not possible, photographs retrieved from other red-light cameras at the intersection, as well as the records from the subject pole, were reviewed for analysis.
Images from the subject camera indicated it was not pointed at the roadway several hours prior to the incident; however, photographs retrieved from the nearby cameras showed the subject pole was still standing one hour before the reported incident. They also showed that another red-light camera pole located a short distance from the subject pole had been knocked down, possibly due to being struck by a vehicle. Because of the proximity of the two poles, the fallen pole could have mis-aligned the subject pole when it was knocked over, or the vehicle that struck the fallen pole may have also hit the subject pole. Either of these could have caused the damage to the subject camera, allowing it to fall on the plaintiff’s vehicle hours later.
Additional causes for the red-light detachment still needed to be investigated, including:
Inspection of the plaintiff’s vehicle – The damage to the plaintiff’s vehicle was inconsistent with it leaving the roadway and impacting the subject pole. The front of the vehicle was undamaged with no indication the bumper had impacted a pole. An imprint on the hood was consistent with the red-light equipment striking diagonally across the center of the hood. Damage resulting from tests of vehicles striking red-light camera poles was inconsistent with the damage on the plaintiff’s vehicle. Results of the inspection concluded that the subject vehicle did not leave the roadway and knock the camera pole down.
Defective base – Records of bi-monthly inspections of the red-light cameras was reviewed. The inspections included a technician climbing a ladder supported against the pole, which placed a much higher load on the pole then normally seen. It was determined through inspection records and procedures that the base was in good condition.
Weather conditions – Historic weather data was reviewed from the morning of the incident. Wind gusts of under 30 miles per hour were reported, which is well below the designed strength of the pole. There were no storms in the incident area or evidence of lightning damage to the pole. Finally, photographs from the incident scene showed no evidence of snow or ice deposits from the pole, thus ruling out weather conditions for cause of failure.
Intentional knock-down by a person – There was no evidence of anyone in the area when the pole fell based on the testimony of the plaintiff and images from the other cameras near the time of the incident.
Result: All reasonable causes of the red-light camera pole falling over were eliminated except that it had been damaged overnight by being struck by the adjacent red-light camera or a vehicle. By eliminating other possible causes of the red-light pole falling onto the plaintiff’s vehicle and determining the damage leading to the collapse was likely caused by an unknown vehicle, the defendants settled the case.
John R. Yannaccone, P.E., Senior Mechanical Engineer with DJS Associates, Inc., can be reached via email at experts@forensicDJS.com or via phone at 215-659-2010.