The Use of Biomechanical Engineers at Trial
Biomechanical engineers are often used in motor vehicle accident cases to determine whether the forces generated in an accident were sufficient to cause the injuries allegedly sustained by a plaintiff. The information can establish the motion that the plaintiff made and whether that motion caused the plaintiff to impact the interior of the vehicle or move in a way that will exceed natural physiological ranges of motion, causing the injuries alleged by the plaintiff.
To perform this analysis, the biomechanical engineer determines the height of the vehicles, the speed of the vehicles, and the amount of energy transferred to each vehicle by the impact. With that information the biomechanical engineer will be able calculate the force sustained by the occupants.
Qualifying as to Testify as an Expert
In order for a biomechanical engineer to present his/her opinion at trial, he/she must first be qualified and present enough physical evidence to provide the biomechanical engineer with the important variables involved and sufficient information to base their opinion upon.
Whether a biomechanical engineer will testify at trial is up to the trial judge. Many times trial judges have concluded that the biomechanical engineer’s principles and procedures are not sufficiently established to have gained a general acceptance in the scientific community (Frye standard of inquiry), or that there was an analytical gap between the data and the witness’s opinion, and thus precluded the expert from trial.
The testimony will be precluded from trial if the expert does not have sufficient information to form a proper opinion, yet attempts to offer an opinion anyway. Therefore, it is crucial that a proper foundation is laid in order for the biomechanical engineer to state his/her opinion at trial.
The courts will seek to determine whether the scientific data that the biomechanical engineer relies upon has been deemed generally accepted as reliable. Upon such a finding, the court will then look to determine whether a proper foundation has been laid to determine whether accepted methods were employed in the particular case.
When the biomechanical engineer is not a doctor, the courts have often permitted the expert to testify as to the forces involved in the collision but only permit the expert to testify in general terms about the types of injuries those forces could cause and not as to whether the injuries at issue were specifically caused by the accident in question.
If the foundation is properly laid, a biomechanical engineer can be an effective tool at trial and should be considered in cases where the plaintiff is alleging serious injuries.