Attorneys involved in auto products liability cases will have also, most likely, investigated cases for crash avoidance technology (CAT) issues. Investigating a CAT case and then pursuing it requires special knowledge, attention, and experience. This is particularly important because the foundation of a winning case begins with a thorough investigation into the viability of the potential claim. Further, CAT cases in themselves have many unique aspects.
This article is intended to help walk auto products liability attorneys through the process of investigating a CAT case.
Initial Steps: preservation
In auto products crashworthiness cases, the first steps are identifying, locating, and preserving the vehicle by sending letters of spoliation. In addition, it is important to gather scene evidence, obtain medical records, and determine the cause of the injuries.
The same steps apply to a CAT case as well as the following considerations: both the client’s vehicle and the defendant’s vehicle must be preserved. Most CAT cases involve claims that the Defendant’s vehicle was defective for failure to equip the vehicle with CAT. Alternatively, if it is equipped with CAT, there may have been a defect with the CAT system.
If injuries in a car crash are potentially caused by a seatback collapse, it is important to preserve the vehicle the client was in. However, if the client was struck from behind by a 2016 Honda CRV and the investigation relates to the failure to equip the Honda with automatic emergency braking (AEB), the Honda itself must also be preserved. Since the car is not the client’s, spoliation letters should be sent immediately to the Honda owner and insurance company to make sure it is preserved.
Once the vehicles are located, they should be moved to a safe storage space and secured. It may also be worth buying the vehicle.
Next steps: obtaining records
To develop the case theory, the following steps need to be completed quickly and efficiently to determine the case’s viability. This helps avoid investing unnecessary time and money further down the road.
As with crash cases, the following initial records should be obtained as quickly as possible, including: the police report; Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT) trip sheet; medical records; any repair service records; and, the vehicle(s) black box or Event Data Recorder (EDR).
The EDR data in vehicles equipped with CAT will highlight key information about how the CAT systems were operating prior to and at the time of the crash. This can help narrow the focus of any investigation and theory that is being developed in the case.
The table below is an extract of the data that was downloaded from a vehicle equipped with multiple CAT safety features.
Detailed investigation of the crash scene
Taking and examining detailed video and photographs of the crash site and looking at Google Earth can all prove helpful. Are there convenience stores or gas stations nearby that may have video footage of the crash? Not only is this necessary in all crashworthiness cases, but it is essential in CAT cases because crash avoidance technology is dependent upon road markings to properly function. Lidar, radar, and cameras, are used on vehicles equipped with CAT to view and map roadways and identify potential hazards.
Clearly marked road lines are essential for Lane Keep Assist technology. If a crash occurred where lines on a road were faded, unidentifiable, or did not exist at all (as is often the case on country roads), Lane Keep Assist is much less likely to work. Further, weather conditions on the day of the crash should be looked at; if it was snowing or foggy, maybe the painted lines were covered or could not be seen; if it was sunny, maybe the sun was shining directly on the vehicle ahead or into the camera mounted on the vehicle. Lane Keep Assist may also not function properly if there are bends in the road or the vehicle is on a hill.
A detailed investigation of the scene can help determine whether CAT would have made a difference.
An accident reconstructionist is usually one of the first experts Jaime Jackson Law will engage in a CAT case. An accident reconstructionist will help determine the viability of the case. It is vitally important to understand exactly how the crash occurred. This allows us to analyze whether, had the car been equipped with a CAT safety feature, it would have made a difference in avoiding or mitigating the crash and our client’s injuries.
Researching CAT and finding testing materials
To effectively investigate a case, CAT needs to be understood as it relates to the vehicle in the case as well as in a broader sense. This means identifying similar vehicles in the same class, equipped with the same or similar system, and how it functions.
A simple Google search is a really easy way to gather manufacturer promotional and marketing materials. Manufacturer websites and brochures usually include descriptions of how their CAT technology functions, along with videos of actual vehicles or animations. What soon becomes clear is that each manufacturer has its own brand terminology for its CAT systems. For example, GM refers to CAT equipped on their vehicles as “Active Safety Technologies” and Honda uses “Collision Mitigation Systems”. Use the same terminology used by the manufacturer and become familiar with the resources the manufacturer makes publicly available.
The NHTSA and IIHS websites contain information about different CAT systems. They also include how they should function, and, where available, show test ratings for vehicles equipped with CAT. Other useful resources include: The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB); the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International; Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), and the European New Car Assessment (Euro NCAP).
Further, the IIHS and Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) offer free, more detailed and technical studies on CAT systems and their effectiveness on their website.
Many of these resources also help with discovering CAT systems testing. In addition, YouTube is a handy resource and shows CAT systems in action.
Crash avoidance technology is continually evolving. As with every potential case, thoroughly researching and investigating a CAT case is fundamental to success.
Jaime Jackson Law has more than twenty years of successful experience in crashworthiness cases and investigating CAT cases. Please get in touch if you have a case you would like to discuss.