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What Stephen Hawking can teach injury lawyers about low vehicle damage car accidents

June 7, 2013 by Steven M. Gursten

People’s bodies, just like particles in physics, don’t react as we would expect

I’ve started reading Stephen Hawking’s “The Grand Design,” and oddly enough, it got me thinking about how people in low speed car accidents become injured.

In Chapter 4, Stephen Hawking describes something where they shoot tiny particles (called, oddly enough, buckyballs) at a wall. The wall has either one or two slits in it. Behind the wall is a screen that records the patterns that are created when the particles hit the screen after passing through the slits in the wall.

You would expect particles passing through these slits to hit the screen and form the same pattern. But they don’t. These particles take all sorts of possible paths and, most interesting of all for lawyers (I’ll explain in just a moment), interference occurs when particles run into each other and cause all sorts of additional patterns on the screen.

Now, onto car accidents. I’ve tried a number of these low vehicle damage, low speed car accident cases.  Most lawyers would agree these are some of the hardest cases to win because the default position is that people expect that a vehicle occupant will be fine after a “bump.”

And in most cases, people are fine.

But what happens when they aren’t? Does it mean, as defense lawyers and insurance companies always assume, that these people are faking and malingering?  Or does it mean that our bodies in the car didn’t react as we would expect they would, just like the particles shot through the slits in the wall don’t leave the same patterns on the screen behind them.

And do the unique factors of each one of these car accidents create its own unique sort of interference? Just like with the particles running into each other, that creates an unexpected result – the occupant suffering serious injury – instead of walking away fine?

If you are an attorney, you  likely already know the answer. Each wreck has very specific variables that includes our client’s weight, height, gender and age.  The possible variance of each of these factors can be multiplied by our client’s position in the car, our client’s susceptibility to an injury and any pre-existing injuries or conditions.

And then we have the car itself, where the headrest is, the seat position and the vehicle itself.

Each of these variables can affect an outcome. For example, if you have someone with degenerative disc disease in their back – a pre-existing lower back injury that makes them more susceptible to injury –  leaning forward in their seat or with their head turned (each significantly increases the force on the occupant), then it creates a unique interference pattern creating the unexpected result. Even though most people might not have been injured, this person was.

The challenge is explaining this to juries, because insurance companies and defense lawyers usually turn a deaf ear and make unreasonable settlement offers.  But these cases can be won and the verdicts can be significant when you explain to juries that the default position may well be accurate for many people, maybe even most people, but it wasn’t here in this car accident for your client.

Even the most notorious defense expert – the one that the insurance companies and defense lawyers  use in every case because he always finds “nothing wrong” or if there is something wrong, that it has to be from anything but this particular car accident – must concede that people have been significantly injured and even killed in very low vehicle damage car accidents.

And therefore, saying your client wasn’t hurt in this particular car accident because it is his opinion that most people wouldn’t have been hurt, becomes just a guess based upon how probable injury would have been to his own idea of whether an average person would have been injured. Not to your client.

Just like in quantum mechanics, the particles don’t always bounce the way we expect.

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