Figuring out who was at fault for a car accident can be difficult, and the proof can come from a number of different places -- police reports, witness statements, and physical evidence, to name a few. When it comes to accidents where excessive speed might trigger blame, the type and extent of damage to a vehicle might be used to establish (or at least estimate) the speed at which one of the vehicles was traveling just before the accident.
In this article, we'll explain how vehicle damage might be used to show that one of the drivers was speeding, with the caveat that this not a foolproof system. Low-speed crashes can cause an unusual amount of vehicle damage, and far too many variables are at play for us to suggest that any bright-line rule exists.
The type and the degree of vehicle damage may indicate that one of the drivers was speeding, or at least was unable to stop in time. With a lot of damage scenarios the only real conclusion you can draw is that that one of the drivers failed to maintain a safe following distance, possibly due to mere inattention or because of distracted driving (i.e. talking on a cell phone or texting while driving).
But there are a few situations where the extent of vehicle damage may at least lead to an indication that excessive speed was a factor. For example, if you are rear-ended in a parking lot where the posted speed limit is fifteen miles per hour, but the accident occurs with such force that the back of your vehicle incurs frame damage, it's likely that the other driver was speeding.
Another example is a totaled car. Where a vehicle is totaled in a car accident, it's a pretty safe bet that one or more of the vehicles involved was traveling at a high rate of speed -- though it's not necessarily proof of speeding.
Let's say the posted speed limit on a rural highway is 55 miles per hour, and a crash results in a totaled vehicle. In that case, it may not be possible to say that speeding was a cause of the accident, since the damage might look similar whether the at-fault driver was doing 55 or 70. But if a vehicle incurs serious damage in an accident on a city street where the speed limit is 25 miles per hour, and a $30,000 vehicle is deemed a total loss, it might be argued that such extensive damage could only have occurred if speeding was involved.
Again, it's not usually possible to point to damage to your vehicle as definitive evidence that the other driver was speeding. But here are a few steps you can take to help connect the dots.
Take Your Own Pictures. Even if it's just with a cell phone camera, take photos of your car, including close-ups of damaged areas, pictures of any detached parts (like bumpers), and any debris on the road.
Using an Expert Witnesses. If your car accident case proceeds to trial, your attorney may call an expert witness to testify that the extent of the damage to your vehicle indicates that the other driver was speeding. The expert should be a person with professional expertise in accident scene reconstruction.
Accident scene experts can testify based on in-person examination of your car, or even after close examination of photos. The expert may testify that, based on an examination of the car accident scene and the damage to your car, it is the expert's opinion that the other driver was speeding.
The expert can provide an estimate of the speed at which the other driver was traveling, and by comparing the expert’s estimation of the other driver's speed with the posted speed limit at the location of the accident, you may have persuasive evidence that speeding was a factor in the accident. Ultimately, at trial, it is up to the jury to determine whether the expert’s opinion should be given significant weight.