R. Scott King, BSME, Principal Automotive / Mechanical Engineer
A good friend of my consistently preached at educational seminars across the country that “Collision reconstruction is application of the laws of physics to physical evidence left as a result of a collision.” He also encouraged his listeners to trifurcate their traffic collision cases into their basic components: The vehicle, roadway, and driver. Indeed, these mantras formed the framework within which virtually all his collision reconstruction analyses were performed. However, it has always been understood that physical evidence (including vehicle event data) often do not enable a reliable understanding of the intent of the parties involved in a collision.
Recently, five people from the New Orleans area were indicted on federal fraud charges for alleged staged collisions with commercial motor vehicles. The accused actors in these alleged schemes not only planned and executed the collisions but utilized at least one attorney to bring the knowingly fraudulent claims and a small network of medical professionals to create false and inflated medical records. In each case, reconstructing the collisions in the typical, conventional manner allowed reconstruction engineers to establish the pre-crash vehicle speeds, the collision dynamics, and the forces involved. Bio-medical engineers could also evaluate the claimed injuries in terms of those collision forces. All this engineering led to whatever conclusions the physical evidence and science permitted; however, it was only through a variety of “red-flags” that insurance investigators uncovered a pattern.
For example, the current alleged fraud ring was led by someone with a lengthy history of filing similar claims in a remarkably short time; many of the claimants – who often were passengers in the same vehicle – made initially large demands only to settle shortly thereafter for much less; the collision dynamics were consistently the so-called “stop short,” rear-end collision; and the supporting cast was nearly always the same. One carrier decided to fight one such claim, which led to the five charges; however, this activity may not be limited to New Orleans. Investigators are discovering similar patterns in Las Vegas and other areas of higher insurance limits and suspected “plaintiff-friendly” jury pools.
In addition to “conventional” collision reconstruction techniques, which include accessing on-board crash data, investigating suspected staged collisions may be further aided by exploiting newer technologies such as cell phones, portable GPS devices, and on-board infotainment systems.
Many engineering firms now offer a full complement of such services which will help investigators come closer to better understanding potential intentions of the parties involved.
R. Scott King, BSME, Principal Automotive / Mechanical Engineer with DJS Associates, Inc., can be reached via email at experts@forensicDJS.com or via phone at 215-659-2010.