Flax v. Chrysler, one more thought

by Ted Frank on July 28, 2008

As Michael Krauss notes, an AP story today rehashes the details of last week’s Flax v. Chrysler case, though it falsely treats Paul Sheridan as a credible witness and doesn’t acknowledge most of Chrysler’s arguments.

It’s worth noting the Jim Butler firm’s description of the case:

The evidence showed the impact was minor. Though Stockell was speeding at the time, the minivan was also moving forward and the change in velocity (Delta V) was only 17 to 20 mph.

To repeat: the plaintiffs’ attorney said that a Delta-V of 17-20 mph is “minor.” I suppose in the astronomical sense that a Delta-V of 17-20 mph wouldn’t escape earth orbit, but it seems fairly major for someone in a heavy minivan. For those of you at home who want to experience what a “minor” Delta-V collision of “only” 17-20 mph feels like, drive into a reinforced brick wall at 17-20 mph with your airbag turned off, but be sure to wear your seat-belt to reduce the chance that you go through your windshield. Another way you can have a Delta-V of 20 mph is if you are dropped about 12-15 feet onto a concrete surface. I sure hope that the trial judge didn’t let Butler lie about physics to the jury like that, but I fear I know the answer.

{ 8 comments }

1 William Nuesslein 07.28.08 at 8:30 am

In reporter in the story writes “According to court records, a former Chrysler employee, Paul Sheridan, also testified for the family and said he investigated minivan seat problems in the 1990s after getting reports of injuries to children being struck by the seats during rear-end collisions.”

There is a difference between a seat hitting a child and the collision of heads. I wonder what data there was about that?

The story here is the irrational decision of judge Holder.

2 Eric 07.28.08 at 11:04 am

It’not just the “delta V,” it’s also the mass involved, alluded to by Mr. Nusslein noting the difference betweeen heads and seats. If I hit the judge in the face with a ping-pong ball thrown at 20 mph, he will be annoyed. If I use a brick instead, he will be more than annoyed.

Oh, and Mr. Nuesslein — there’s nothing irrational about the judge’s decision if the judge happens to be in the tank for personal injury lawyers…

3 AMcA 07.28.08 at 11:29 am

This reminds me of my greatest moment with expert witnesses. I hired a physicist to explain to a jury what the effect of attaining a running speed, and falling forward onto concrete with your hands cuffed behind your back.

He calculated it would be like falling, from standing heright, off a table. I was ready to subtly hint to the jurors that they ought stand on the jury room table and ask themselves: “would my jaw break in 5 places if I let myself fall here?”

Never got to do it. Darn case went and settled.

4 theBruce 07.28.08 at 12:03 pm

One of the most misunderstood (and therefore appropriated by the plaintiffs’ bar and twisted to their benefit) concepts in crash litigation is Delta V. While it is a generally accepted measure of change in velocity over a time span of oh, approximately 120 milliseconds, without a set time reference it is an utterly useless metric. As many good defense engineering witensses will point out, each juror experienced at least a 55 mph Delta V the last time he or she drove on the freeway.

5 Bill Poser 07.28.08 at 4:06 pm

One of the most misunderstood (and therefore appropriated by the plaintiffs’ bar and twisted to their benefit) concepts in crash litigation is Delta V. While it is a generally accepted measure of change in velocity over a time span of oh, approximately 120 milliseconds, without a set time reference it is an utterly useless metric. As many good defense engineering witensses will point out, each juror experienced at least a 55 mph Delta V the last time he or she drove on the freeway.

True, but I’m not sure whether this is as much an indictment of the legal system as it is an indictment of the educational system. Any juror who took introductory high school physics should understand this. There is something deeply wrong not only with the educational system but with the cultural values of a society in which only a small minority of science geeks are expected to understand such things.

6 Steve 07.28.08 at 5:42 pm

Even without physics, people would know that there is a lot more force with a high speed of decelaration.

This is what annoys me about these cases. Is it even possible that the plaintiffs attorney DID NOT know this to be the case. The fact that he has tried his side of the case this way would imply that he knows this and is attempting to “lie” to the courts.

Should be charged.

7 MF 07.28.08 at 8:19 pm

True, but I’m not sure whether this is as much an indictment of the legal system as it is an indictment of the educational system. Any juror who took introductory high school physics should understand this.

I went to a very good public school in Ohio in the late 70′s. Only the college-minded students took Physics, and even then, those who were Liberal Arts minded avoided it. I think it’s pretty unreasonable to expect the general public to be familiar with what you’ve termed introductory high school physics.

I don’t believe these concepts are rocket science. I’m very familiar with them. I’m only commenting that I don’t expect this level of competence in the average juror. In fact, I would highly expect any lawyer trying to sell such garbage would also go to extreme efforts to eliminate any juror with the level of intelligence to know it. Remember, the lawyer wants the jury to know only what they are told.

8 theBruce 07.29.08 at 9:30 am

MF, I concur. Which is why the “consumer expectations test” (one theory of products liability in CA) is so inapt. Vehicles, and their occupant protection systems, are so esoteric that the average consumer has NO reasonable expectation as to their performance. When it is not reasonable for an SUV to handle differently than a sedan (e.g. Buell-Wilson v. Ford), the tort system has collapsed.

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