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Rish v. Simao – Injuries in Low-Impact Car Accidents

Auto insurance companies routinely exploit the myth that "low-impact car accidents" - those that occur at less than 10 mph - cannot result in injuries.

Adjusters will point to the speed of vehicles involved. They will highlight the minimal damage to the cars. They will note the lack of skid marks or the fact that plaintiffs did not immediately seek medical treatment.

But at The Law Offices of Mark E. Salomone, our Boston, car accident lawyers recognize that low-impact accidents absolutely have the potential to cause injuries - and sometimes substantial and lasting impairment.

One simply cannot accurately measure the degree of personal injury by comparing the damage done to a hunk of steel and metal. Consider that the average passenger vehicle weighs 2,000 pounds. An impact at 10 mph is going to result in about 3.7 tons of force.  The average American weighs 175 pounds. The potential for serious injury is high.

Still, as the recent Nevada Supreme Court case of Rish v. Simao illustrated, car accident defendants will raise this defense to their advantage whenever possible. Often, the testimony of a biomechanical expert makes all the difference.

While the majority of medical experts lack engineering expertise and most engineering experts have no medical expertise, a qualified biomechanical expert has a wealth of knowledge in both of these complex arenas.

Still, the admissibility of these experts is often hotly contested, and that was the case in Rish.

According to court records in the case, plaintiff was rear-ended by defendant while the two were in stop-and-go traffic. Damage to both vehicles was not extensive. Emergency medical service personnel were called to the scene, but plaintiff declined treatment at the time.

Later, plaintiff alleged the accident had resulted in injuries to his head and neck. He suffered constant pain and required on-going medical treatment. He filed a lawsuit against defendant to recover damages for his injuries, and his wife's loss of consortium.

Prior to trial, plaintiff filed a motion in limine - a motion asking the court for limitation or prevention of certain evidence from the other side - to preclude any evidence from defendant insinuating that the accident was too insignificant (or low-impact) to have caused injury. The basis for this request was a 2008 Nevada Supreme Court ruling in Hallmark v. Eldridge, in which the court ruled a biomechanical expert for the defense was not qualified to give testimony under strict evidence standards, and thus evidence of low-impact speed was stricken. Defense in Rish did not present any testimony from a biomechanical expert.

The court granted this request over defense objections. However, at trial, defense repeatedly violated this order. Fed up by the eighth violation in which defense mentioned the low-impact nature of the crash, the court sanctioned defense with a summary judgment in favor of plaintiff.

Defense appealed, and the state supreme court reversed. The state high court determined the trial court had misinterpreted its ruling in Hallmark. The point wasn't that defendants in these cases must have a biomechanical expert. It's that if they are going to have one, they must be adequately qualified under the Daubert standard, which assesses the scientific testimony of an expert witness based upon sound reasoning and scientifically valid reasoning and applicable to known facts.

Whether you are presenting or refuting the testimony of a biomechanical expert witness in a lawsuit stemming from a low-impact car accident in Boston, the bottom line is that the witness must be adequately qualified. His or her testimony may be limited to identifying the forces generated in the accident and further explaining how the body is moved and affected as a result of those forces.

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If you were injured or a loved one was injured or killed in an accident in Boston, Worcester, Springfield or Holyoke, a personal injury lawyer can fight to help you obtain compensation you deserve. At the Law Offices of Mark E. Salomone, serving Massachusetts, our personal injury attorneys have an impressive record of trial verdicts and settlements.