The Laws of Physics in Baltimore Car Accident Cases

I love Joe Pesci, and one of my favorite scenes of his is from My Cousin Vinny where he uses the time it takes to cook a pot of grits to cross-examine a witness about his misperception of time.

According to the Court of Appeals of Maryland, the laws of physics are irrelevant to the laws of this state. In Mason v. Lynch, 388 Md. 37, 878 A.2d 588 (2005), the Court of Appeals of Maryland held that photographs of minimal vehicle damage are relevant as to the question of whether a plaintiff was injured in an auto collision injury case. The court held that common sense tells us that there is “a correlation between the nature of the vehicular impact and the severity of the personal injuries.”

The court didn’t seem to mind that the weight of scientific authority says exactly the opposite. The two dissenting judges, the Hon. Irma S. Raker and Chief Judge Robert M. Bell, actually quoted a scientific study that concluded that “the assumption that injuries relate to the amount of external vehicle damage in all types of crashes has no scientific basis.”

Apparently the majority felt that our courts should rely upon “common sense” even when scientific fact tells us that common sense is wrong. At various points in history common sense told us that the world was flat, and that the stars and planets revolved around the earth. I doubt the Court of Appeals of Maryland will endorse these theories anytime soon.

Since apparently “the laws of physics cease to exist in this state”, Baltimore car accident lawyers must continue to contend with the defense argument that low or no property damage equals little or no injury, and that common sense tells us that anyone who says otherwise is lying. There are a few ways to deal with this.

One is to be absolutely upfront. Don’t try to say the pictures show anything but what they show. To do otherwise kills your credibility with the judge or jury. Concentrate on making sure the injury victim can describe her movements in her vehicle, whether she hit any part of the interior, and what the force of the collision felt like. Also, rely on any “independent” verification of injuries, such as ER or ambulance records.

I have also heard other ways to minimize this kind of problem. Author and trial consultant David Ball suggests using a high school physics teacher to explain the physics of force transfer. I don’t know if this would work, but it’s an idea to think about. Some lawyers will use a biomechanics expert to get the same testimony. I wonder if one could cross-examine defense doctors who use the lack of vehicle damage to support their conclusions by using the studies that Judge Raker and Judge Bell quote? Maybe that is a technique to try the next time this issue comes up.