If Photographs of a Car Accident Show Little to No Damage, Doesn’t Determine Injury

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It is often said that a picture is worth a thousand words. However, many times the interpretation of the picture or words without further explanation can create a false impression.

In 2013, as a Philadelphia car accident lawyer for three and a half decades,  I am very much aware that all too many times our “good neighbor” or “best friend” insurance companies will introduce photographs of vehicles involved in rear-end collisions that on their surface fail to indicate visible damage.

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One look at these photographs without further words or explanation might be curious as to how an occupant could have been injured.

Photos Are Valuable Evidence in a Car Accident in Pennsylvania

Unlike an automobile accident case with significant property damage where a court or jury can easily relate the connection of injuries to the accident itself, insurance company adjusters and their attorneys typically follow a well-defined and choreographed game plan when litigating minimal impact, soft tissue cases also known as “MIST” cases.

Insurance companies are betting that most plaintiff counsel will make a cost-benefit analysis in evaluating the claim, particularly in terms of ultimate value, costs, and expenses of litigation. Many times based on said photographs, they will make low ball offers even though the victim may have sustained a serious and significant injury. They understand that the proper litigation of MIST cases by an attorney requires a significant investment of time and money and it is not an “easy A”.

Minimal impact soft tissue injury cases are an uphill battle for most victims yet with proper proof, accident reconstruction, and the use of a biomechanical expert, it is possible to overcome initial juror perception that this is a frivolous lawsuit by a victim looking to take advantage of the legal system. If a victim sustains objective and significant injuries as a result of a car accident, plaintiff and plaintiff’s counsel should never back down. A skilled plaintiff’s attorney should counter the “junk science” that insurance companies and their attorneys like to introduce in “MIST” cases by filing Motions in Limine with the court arguing that physical damage, characterizations of “minor property damage” or “minor impact” should be excluded from trial because they are inherently unreliable and their probative value is outweighed by prejudice.

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Insurance companies go to great lengths to portray plaintiffs in MIST cases as greedy and overreaching. They hire “painted lady experts” to demonstrate that the limited amount of property damage dispels any notion that the plaintiff could have been injured as much as they claim.

Issues Surrounding Car Accident Pictures In Court Cases

In fact, since 2012 through 2013 we have noticed a disturbing pattern wherein many PIP carriers, namely the plaintiffs own insurance carriers, are increasingly playing hardball with their own clients initiating sworn statements under oath in an attempt to intimidate and criminalize accident victims.

In a proper case with significant injuries, plaintiffs’ attorneys should hire a likable and credible biomechanical engineer to corroborate a believable client’s version of the accident correlated with medical reports from a respected treating physician. A credible and respected doctor coupled with a likable and credible plaintiff should always be able to overcome implications made by defense counsel that plaintiff’s injuries are frivolous and not caused by the car crash but rather by a sneeze, aging, or some other lame excuse.

I have learned after 34 years of legal practice that there is almost no such thing as a perfect case, and defendants always attempt to confuse the issues in an attempt to mislead the jury. I call these defense misdirections a “Red Herring” based on junk science and facts.

By revealing to the jury photographs showing minor or no damage to the vehicle, it is expected that the juror will make a logical leap which may be contrary to scientific research developed independently of litigation to attempt to causally connect the plaintiff’s injuries to the forces of impact.

Jury instructions state “a number of photographs of one or more of the vehicles involved in the accident have been introduced into evidence. The photographs show the damage or depict the condition of the vehicle after impact. As judges of the fact, you may attribute such weight to the photographs as you deem appropriate taking into consideration all of the evidence in the case. In some accidents resulting in extensive damage, the occupants may suffer minor injuries or no injuries at all. In other accidents where there is no or little apparent vehicle damage, the occupants may suffer serious injuries. In reaching a decision in this matter, the photographs are to be given whatever weight you deem appropriate. They are only but one factor to be considered along with all other evidence in determining whether a plaintiff sustained injuries as a result of the accident.”

In most cases that our law firm has litigated, the photographs introduced by the insurance companies did not properly portray the damage and we forced the defendant to call the photographer to authenticate them. We also asked them to opine about the damage to the car that was not depicted in the photographs such as frame damage. We will introduce the damage appraisal as well as testimony from the repair shop typically noting that much of the damage is not capable of being accurately photographed.

With proper preparation and retention of credible experts, it is possible to diffuse the defense and obtain a highly successful outcome in a MIST case.

The Philadelphia Car Accident Lawyers at The Reiff Law Firm are Here to Help You With Your Injury Case

Jeffrey Reiff has been recognized as one of the nation’s top attorneys handling motor vehicle cases since 1979. He frequently writes and lectures on motor vehicle and consumer safety issues. Contact a Berks County car accident lawyer today for help.

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