In high-speed motor vehicle crashes resulting in serious personal injuries, there is oftentimes substantial damage to the vehicles involved. As a general principle, we understand that the substantial vehicle damage caused by high-speed crashes is consistent with serious personal injuries to those involved in the crash.
How about when there is minimal vehicle damage? Is little or no vehicle damage in a motor vehicle crash suggestive of minimal or no injuries? The answer is no.
Study Finds No Correlation Between Minimal Vehicle Damage and Resulting Injuries
Ever since the mid-1990’s, the auto insurance industry as instructed its claims adjusters that, as a general principle, crashes with minimal vehicle damage are unlikely to — or cannot — cause significant or permanent injury. Consequently, even today it takes an experienced, skilled advocate to obtain full justice for those who have been seriously injured in motor vehicle crashes with minimal property damage.
It turns out the medical research and science support our clients who have sustained serious injuries despite minimal vehicle damage.
According to a 2005 study, which involved a comprehensive literature search of peer-reviewed journals, although there is “some” relationship between vehicle damage and injury risk or severity, “this metric does not hold for males nor does it correlate significantly with long-term symptoms for persons of either sex.”
Indeed, the study found no reliable correlation between vehicle damage and injury severity or risk, specifically:
A substantial number of injuries are reported in crashes of severities that are unlikely to result in significant property damage. Thus, property damage is neither a valid predictor of acute injury risk nor of symptom duration.
The study suggests “other factors,” such as head restraint geometry, awareness of impending crash, sex, and pre-existing injuries or conditions are stronger predictors of long-term injury following motor vehicle crashes, particularly low-speed crashes.
Are Vehicle Photos Showing Minimal Damage Relevant in Personal Injury Claim?
If the lack of significant vehicle damage does not reliably correlate to the nature or extent of injuries, how are photographs showing minimal vehicle damage relevant at trial in a personal injury case arising out of a car crash?
For many years, courts in Illinois have said such photographs showing minimal vehicle damage are not relevant — in the absence of expert testimony explaining why they are relevant — and therefore are not admissible at trial. Cases standing for that proposition are DeCosola v. Bowman, 342 Ill. App. 3d 530 (2003) and Voykin v. Estate of DeBoer, 192 Ill. 2d 49 (2000).
However, recently the Illinois Supreme Court in Peach v. McGovern, 2019 IL 123156, held just the opposite and upheld the trial court’s decision to allow into evidence the vehicle photographs that depicted minor physical damage even without expert testimony. The Court reasoned that the photographs were relevant to plaintiff’s credibility as to the nature and speed of impact — in other words, were relevant to the issues of proximate cause and damages.
The unfortunate result of this decision is that in cases involving serious injury but with minimal vehicle damage, plaintiffs are going to be forced to hire a biomechanical engineer or similar expert — at considerable additional case expense — to help teach the jury that the types of injuries involved in the crash, oftentimes injuries to the spine or “mild” traumatic brain injuries, are completely consistent with the photographs revealing minimal damage to the vehicle.
This makes it even more important to speak with a personal injury lawyer who has the knowledge, experience, and dedication to proving the traumatic cause and full nature and extent of the injuries involved.
For a free consultation with one of Passen & Powell’s top-rated motor vehicle crash attorneys, call us at 312-527-4500.