Expert Testimony Strengthens a Pedestrian Accident Case
In many pedestrian accident cases, there are only two potential accident witnesses – the vehicle driver and the injured victim. The vehicle driver will often deny fault even when they know that they caused the collision. If the pedestrian suffered a serious injury, like a traumatic brain injury, they may not remember how the collision occurred. Unfortunately, a judge might dismiss a pedestrian accident lawsuit if the pedestrian cannot recall how the collision occurred, and the vehicle driver also insists that they didn’t do anything wrong.
In that scenario, a pedestrian should hire an expert to reconstruct and analyze the collision. That reconstruction may reveal, for example, that the driver could have avoided the collision if they controlled their speed and kept their eyes on the road. A recent Georgia Court of Appeals case (Spires v. Thomas, 362 Ga. App. 344 (2021) demonstrates how expert testimony strengthens a pedestrian accident case.
Mr. Spires’ Testimony
Jess Spires sued Raven Thomas to recover for injuries he sustained when he was struck by a vehicle driven by Ms. Thomas. Shortly before the collision occurred, Mr. Spires was walking south alongside a state highway in the direction of oncoming traffic. According to Mr. Spires, he had walked this route “a million times,” and he was walking on the side of the grass, about a foot-and-a-half from the white line. Mr. Spires insisted that he was not walking on the pavement.
Mr. Spires denied that he was intoxicated at the time of the accident or that he was drinking that morning on his way to work. However, he acknowledged that there was a beer bottle in the vicinity of where he landed after the impact.
The collision severely injured Mr. Spires. Mr. Spires broke the following bones: his nose, his forearm, his right knee, his pelvis and his back. The impact tore his urethra off of his bladder and also caused a possible concussion.
Mr. Spires never saw Ms. Thomas’ vehicle and had no recollection of the actual impact. He did not know he had been hit until he woke up in the hospital at least a week or two later.
Ms. Thomas’ Testimony
Ms. Thomas was traveling north on the state highway when she hit Mr. Spires. Her high beams were activated, she was looking straight ahead, and she believed she was traveling 45-50 mph.
In her interrogatory responses, Ms. Thomas stated that she did not see Mr. Spires until he “unexpectedly stepped into the roadway immediately in front of her oncoming vehicle … and she unavoidably collided with him.” However, during her deposition, Ms. Thomas testified that she didn’t see Mr. Spires at all, and was “assuming that’s what had to happen.” She testified further that Mr. Spires “probably darted in front of [her] car” because he was “drunk.”
Ms. Thomas’ vehicle traveled 567 feet before she brought her vehicle to a stop. She proceeded to call her mother. Then, she called the police.
Police Officer’s Report
The police officer’s report noted that:
- Mr. Spires was “walking southbound, in the roadway, in the northbound lane [and that he] came to rest 20 feet east of the east roadway edge.
- There was no roadway evidence to support the exact area of impact.
- There were no tire marks/skid marks on the shoulder of the roadway that would indicate Thomas’ vehicle traveled off the road.
- A bottle of beer was lying beside the pedestrian at final rest
The police officer suspected that Mr. Spires was drunk, but he did not administer an alcohol test. There was also no evidence in the record that Mr. Spires’ treating physicians ordered a toxicology screen.
Accident Reconstructionist Testimony
Mr. Spires hired an expert to recreate and analyze the accident, Pete Jones. Mr. Jones concluded that “a person operating a vehicle similar to the one operated by Ms. Thomas at the time of the accident, during similar conditions, with its headlights on and traveling at or within the speed limit of 55 mph, would be able to view a pedestrian on the shoulder of the road from 185 feet away and would have sufficient time and distance to avoid hitting the pedestrian, and that even though the roadway has a slow curve, it “generally offers a clear, unobstructed view and field of vision things in the roadway and off to the side of the roadway.”
Additionally, Mr. Jones concluded that Ms. Thomas “had a duty to stop as close to the scene as possible and her failure to do so “may have undermined the scene evidence and investigation” as “investigating officers need to see where vehicles are stopped and often speak to drivers about where certain events occurred, but leaving the scene can affect location of marks on and off the roadway and the collection of other physical evidence.”
Trial Court Decision
Ms. Thomas asked the trial judge to dismiss Mr. Spires’ case on the grounds that he could not “provide any evidence to show that [she] negligently operated her vehicle at the time of the accident.”
The trial judge granted Ms. Thomas’ request and dismissed Mr. Spires’ case. That judge also concluded that Mr. Jones’ expert testimony “contained speculation and conjecture which is insufficient to defeat summary judgment.”
Mr. Spires appealed the trial court’s decision.
Georgia Court of Appeals Decision
The Georgia Court of Appeals reversed the trial judge’s decision. First, it ordered the trial judge to admit the expert’s testimony even though that testimony contained some speculative opinions that touched upon the ultimate issue in the case (negligence). See, e.g, Fortner v. Town of Register, 289 Ga. App. 543, 546 (2008) (“expert opinion on issues to be decided by the jury, even the ultimate issue, is admissible where the conclusion of the expert is one which jurors would not ordinarily be able to draw for themselves, i.e., the conclusion is beyond the ken of the layman.”).
Next, the Court of Appeals overturned the trial judge’s dismissal order. The Court observed that “the evidence is not plain, palpable, and undisputed; rather the very question of where [Spires] was [walking] when the accident occurred is disputed.” Mr. Spires testified that the last thing he remembered before waking up in the hospital after being struck by Ms. Thomas’ vehicle was that he was walking on the side of the grass off of the pavement; he was not walking in the roadway. Given that testimony, the Court of Appeals concluded that “there is a genuine issue of fact as to where Mr. Spires was walking when he was struck by Thomas’ vehicle and, therefore, whether Thomas left her lane of travel and hit Spires off the roadway.”
Finally, the Court of Appeals also questioned whether “the trial court properly relied on the crash report.” In fact, the Court even suggested that the police officer’s report was untrustworthy since the report appeared to contain statements that were not the officer’s firsthand observations.
Impact of the Georgia Court of Appeals Decision
The Georgia Court of Appeals’ decision is a great victory for Mr. Spires and his legal team. The decision enables Mr. Spires to present his case to the jury. Juries are often more sympathetic to personal injury victims than judges.
Next, at that trial, Mr. Spires will be able to present his expert’s complete testimony. That testimony clearly establishes that Ms. Thomas could have avoided the collision if she paid attention to the road conditions in front of her. That testimony also establishes that Ms. Thomas harmed the accident scene investigation by stopping her vehicle so far away from the collision site (nearly two football field lengths). A juror might wonder if Ms. Thomas considered fleeing the collision scene until she was overwhelmed with guilt.
In the absence of that expert testimony, Mr. Spires might have difficulty winning his case at trial. Now, he’s in a great position to recover significant damages.
Our Atlanta Pedestrian Accident Lawyers Can Help You
At Graham Scofield Injury Lawyers, our Atlanta car accident lawyers have successfully represented many pedestrian accident victims. We may be able to help you even if the police officer gave you a traffic citation.
We’re not afraid to litigate a challenging liability case with significant damages like Mr. Spires’ case. Call us today at (404) 939-9470 to discuss your pedestrian accident case. Also, you may fill-out our online contact form to schedule a free case review with our team. If you’ve got questions, we’ve got the answers.