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In 2018 we worked on a fatal impact case between a Ford and a pedestrian near Byron, Georgia. As pedestrian injury attorneys, we are pretty used to seeing the police department issue an accident report blaming the pedestrian for being slightly in the roadway when the driver hit him and killed him. The prevailing attitude in Georgia is “roads are for cars and screw the pedestrian for walking near a road, they got what was coming to them.”
There is a reason most cops just write down “dark clothing” on police reports. Police officers will almost always blame the pedestrian if the walker is not in a crosswalk at the time of the collision.
That was not what happened here. We acquired the 911 call tapes and got recordings of the driver admitting he was going to fast and that he slightly swerved just before impact and that broke the case wide open. We also gathered the microphone recordings from the Officer’s lapel’s and got conflicting statements from the driver and a witness. We don’t always get lucky enough to have audio evidence of statements made at the scene. To the right is a photo of where the officer said the point of impact was, to the right of the fog line.
You need to examine a variety of pieces of evidence before you can begin to draw conclusions about whether the driver, the pedestrian, or a combination of both are at fault.
Examine where the person landed and determine how far they were thrown. If they did not hit something, we can often get an expert to calculate the striking speed of the vehicle.
Check skid or yaw marks to determine speed, path, amount of braking and any evasive maneuvers. Calculate perception-reaction times in conjunction with an analysis of how conspicuous the pedestrian was in the lighting conditions. In the crash in Byron, there were almost no skidmarks to use and the body was caught by a nearby fence, so it was impossible to use the distance thrown to calculate vehicle speed at the time of impact.
Where was everyone at the time of impact? Most pedestrians are hit by the front of the vehicle (80-90%) The most common fact pattern has the vehicle seeing the pedestrian and the last second, braking, striking the pedestrian and then coming to a stop. The pedestrian is thrown forward a good distance. By accurately measuring these points, you can determine the “throw distance” for the victim and then calculate speed.
As in the case above where we see the shoe, the scene investigation often reveals broken pieces of the headlight or vehicle parts along with items from the victim. These items don’t land at the site of impact and you cannot conclusively show where on the roadway they were, but you can eliminate certain possibilities because the items are always thrown forward of the impact and don’t drop straight down.
One of the critical issues in cases where it is suspected that the vehicle was speeding is the perception reaction time. While many experts will tell you the industry standard is 1.5 to 2.5 seconds to perceive and react to an obstacle in the road, these numbers are likely too low. They are based on a flawed study and did not account for nighttime visibility and drowsiness. Most of these impacts occur at night. When you are dealing with a pedestrian hit by a vehicle at night, you really need your expert to focus on how long the driver had been up, degree of fatigue and ambient light at the spot of the impact. These facts can hold the key to understanding why a driver was or was not responsible for hitting a pedestrian.
These are complicated cases and moving quickly in the early going is key to preserving the testimony of witnesses. Hire an experienced attorney to deal with this type of crash because your basic car wreck lawyer just won’t cut it.