Research with respect to neck injury potential can be conducted to provide a variety of conclusions for the purposes of supporting or denying an injury claim. Those in the courts that are presented with the results of such research are neophytes in understanding the details of the methods and procedures used to produce those conclusions. Furthermore, the purpose for conducting the research is not always benign. Special interest groups are known to provide the funds to researchers who will likely develop conclusions that will support the interests of those groups. It is a small wonder that court decisions can be confused by these influences. With respect to soft tissue neck injuries the issue is hard fought. Such injury is notoriously difficult to quantify objectively. Reliance on experts is often in danger of providing substandard assistance on both sides when such experts become friends of the purchasing agents.
A recent research study from the 2015 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) Experimental Safety Vehicle (ESV) conference is used here as an example. One of the presented papers was entitled “Are Small Females More Vulnerable to Lower Nick Injuries When Seated Sufficiently Away From the Steering Wheel in a Frontal Crash?” The paper was authored by Chandrashekhar Thorbole of Thorbole Simulation Technologies LLC in the U.S. The study used the well-known MADYMO simulation software to conclude that: “…small females are vulnerable to high lower neck flexion moments with increase in the steering-chest distance (SCD)”. As illustrated in a figure (see below) taken from the study the theoretical flexion moment is increased at lower vertebrae of the cervical spine due to the mass of the head, the position of the seat, the position of the torso webbing and other factors.
The red triangle in the above figure is meant to demonstrate the increased force as we proceed along lower vertebrae of the cervical spine.
The selection of this example paper is not meant to condemn or support the conclusions. But it demonstrates the need to understand the details of how the conclusions were drawn. What methods and procedures were used and whether the conclusions might be appropriately used to support or deny an injury claim in the courtroom. The above illustration is rather simple to understand and provides some basic principles that most judges or juries might grasp. However this process is not always easy and simple . In more complex issues there is not enough time allotted for an expert to take the court from ignorance to expertise. Not due to the fault of the expert, but due to the characteristics of the study involved. The expert’s discussion often involves commencing from the very basics of a technical matter and building from those basics through a complex process that must be substantially understood if the end product is to be appreciated. The reality is that, in many instances, the superior abilities of the adjudicator become insufficient and the adjudicator is simply incapable of grasping substantial and essential portions of the technical evidence. As the complexity or our world expands this problem becomes more and more evident. How this problem can be resolved in a matter for the courts to decide.