Is There a Relationship Between Damage to a Car and Injury to its Occupants?

People are visual animals. We believe what we see, and that is true in the courtroom as it is anywhere else. In personal injury trials and car accident cases, visuals can mean everything. That includes the visual of what a car accident victim’s car looks like after an accident.

Variations in Property Damage

We know from common experience that some car accidents result in severe property damage, such as twisted metal and torn off fenders, while some may result in what looks like no more than a dent or scrape. Traditionally, being visual animals, jurors tend to equate smaller property damage with less significant injuries. That is, they have a hard time believing that someone could suffer a significant injury, when their car looks like it has sustained only minor damage.

Is there a real correlation between damage to a car and injury to an occupant? Is it fair to look at property damage as a measure of the forces that a victim’s body sustained in an accident?

Acceleration Rate is Key

It may not be fair at all, especially in cases of rear-end collisions. Many studies have shown that the impact on a body does not correlate with the damage to the car, but does to how far or fast the front car (the one that is hit) is accelerated forward by the car behind it. That sudden acceleration is what causes the injuries to the occupants.

Take for example a car at a stop light on a wet road. That car is hit from behind. Because of the road conditions, the front car slides violently forward. The occupant is subject to strong forward forces, but the car itself may show minor damage because the force of the impact was not sustained by the lead car because the lead car slid forward. That is, the lead car’s body did not have to take the full brunt of the impact, and thus would show minor damage.

This can happen when a lead car does not have its brakes applied or when a road is gravel or dirt instead of pavement, all conditions that would contribute to a car accelerating forward quickly, forcefully and easily, causing more injury to occupants and less to the car itself.

Other Factors

Of course, other factors play into this analysis, as well. A large, heavy truck may rear end a smaller car, which is clearly a situation in which the smaller car will be subject to serious acceleration. Because the bigger truck’s front end does not “line up” directly with the smaller, lower-standing car’s bumper, there may be minimal damage done to the vehicle.

Today’s cars also are built with bumpers designed to collapse. That collapse does save the passengers from some impact because the impact is absorbed by the bumper. A car that does not have those properties may not show serious damage to the bumper, as it does not “crumble” on impact. The impact is transferred to the passengers inside the car creating a situation in which the bumper looks fine, but the passengers may not be.

If you or your family are injured in a car accident, contact the attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today for a free consultation to discuss your case.