Taming a rampaging court system

Leo Strupczewski describes himself as “a truth seeker.” No, he’s not a renegade FBI agent pursuing cases from the X Files. Strupczewski is an accident reconstructionist accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Traffic Accident Reconstruction. “My job is to assist the judge and jury in determining what happened,” he says. “I’m not an advocate for either side.”

Strupczewski’s profession is based on solid science. “Vehicles in an accident react predictably according to the laws of physics. They usually leave physical evidence on the road that is hard to contradict.” There is no exemption or waiver from the laws of physics, and an accident reconstructionist is well versed in them.

Accident reconstructionists work backward from the end result. Consider a case where a truck runs off a road that curves to the left. “The accident situation doesn’t start where the truck left the road,” Strupczewski says. “It begins back where the driver began having trouble negotiating the curve. There will often be tire marks that will yield information about the direction each unit of the combination took as the rig approached the point where it actually left the road. We can also make reasonable assumptions from experience about things like when the driver should have seen a problem developing ahead.

“You can look guilty when you’re not,” Strupczewski says. So, when does hiring an investigator come in most handy? When one of your drivers feels vulnerable because a crash wasn’t his fault, but another operator may be trying to conceal his mistakes and guilt by lying. Or when a plaintiff’s attorney is doing something similar. Even when some of the initial evidence is no longer available, a reconstructionist may be able to help by “filling in the blanks,” Strupczewski says.

The testimony of an investigator can be quite helpful in a trial. “You have to understand the court system,” Strupczewski says. “It’s not about truth, but about who puts on the best show.” If your driver was not at fault, having an investigator there with the physical facts automatically makes your show better than the one created by your opposition.

It’s ideal to get an investigator to the scene before anything is disturbed. Instruct your drivers to call in immediately to report any accident. They should watch closely for a situation where the facts aren’t obvious and other drivers or the investigating officer seem not to be objective. Strupczewski says helpful law enforcement authorities may hold the vehicles in position until an investigator arrives, provided only a “reasonable” delay is necessary. Even if it proves to be necessary to clear the road before the investigator arrives, there’s still value in getting there quickly to talk to witnesses, he says.

Fortunately, investigators can also function effectively much later. That’s where their ability to fill in the blanks comes in handy. One area where this is of particular value is in extracting information from the vehicle’s ECM and then interpreting data.

Although understanding the laws of physics is crucial for successful accident reconstructions, the field is as much an art as a science, Strupczewski says. “While two experts usually agree on their interpretation of events, they occasionally see the same events differently, just because they are two different people.”

All this suggests that you would be smart to find yourself a couple of investigators to call at a moment’s notice. If the first one you hire seems to view things in an unfavorable light, and you feel he is wrong, you might want to get a second opinion. That’s not cheating. After all, that’s how the system works.

The Accreditation Commission for Traffic Accident Reconstruction website (www.actar.org) includes a directory of accredited accident reconstructionists.

Another good source is the Accident Reconstruction Communications Network (www.accidentreconstruction.com).