Testimonial Versus Accident Reconstruction Evidence

This was originally published on the SGR Blog.

Was Testimony Incredible as a Matter of Law?

In automobile accident cases, our Courts are often presented with eye-witness testimony that conflicts with expert accident reconstruction evidence. Is there a point where the physical evidence renders the testimony incredible?

Jennifer Brulatour, as administrator of the estate of Keith Brulatour, sued to recover for personal injuries arising out of a cross-over motor vehicle accident. Keith testified that a vehicle operated by Bienna Cooney crossed over into his lane of traffic and struck his vehicle head on before he had any opportunity to take evasive action. His son, Matthew, averred that he was driving two cars behind his father when another vehicle crossed over and the ensuing collision occurred entirely in his father’s lane.

Brenna Cooney testified that Keith’s vehicle crossed over into her lane of traffic, struck her vehicle head on and flipped over the hood of her car. An independent third party witness, who was driving directly behind Keith, confirmed that the accident occurred when Keith crossed over into Cooney’s lane. Skid marks and gouge marks in the road, as well as broken glass, were all located in Cooney’s lane of traffic, and both vehicles ended up on her side of the roadway. Cooney’s accident reconstruction expert averred, based on the physical evidence as well as the nature of the damage to the two vehicles, that the accident occurred when Keith veered left into Cooney’s lane, and could not, consistent with the physical evidence, have occurred as the Brulatours maintained by Cooney’s having veered to her left into Keith’s car. Ms. Brulatour submitted no expert accident reconstruction evidence in opposition.

Testimony may be deemed incredible as a matter of law, and disregarded as being without evidentiary value, if it is impossible of belief because it was manifestly untrue, physically impossible, contrary to experience, or self-contradictory.

Here, Brenna Cooney’s account of the accident was confirmed by an independent third party witness traveling directly behind Keith, and that testimony was substantiated by all of the physical evidence as interpreted by the accident reconstruction expert. In contrast, the Brulatour’s evidence was wholly self-serving, contradicted by the independent witness to the accident, and contrary to all of the physical evidence – as tacitly admitted by the failure to adduce any evidence in opposition to the affidavit proffered by the defense’s accident reconstruction expert.

Under the circumstances, the Court concluded that Keith’s deposition testimony as well as his son’s affidavit were incredible as a matter of law. They were disregarded as without evidentiary value because their account of the accident was physically impossible in light of the physical evidence, and manifestly untrue.

The Court accordingly found, as a matter of law, that Keith, not Brenna Cooney, violated Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1120(a), which provides that “vehicle[s] shall be driven upon the right half of the roadway,” by crossing over into the opposing lane of traffic. Keith was negligent per se unless justified by an emergency situation not of the his own making. Cooney was not obligated to anticipate that a vehicle traveling in the opposite direction would cross over into the oncoming lane of traffic. The Court concluded, as a matter of law, that Keith’s negligence in crossing over into Cooney’s lane of travel was the sole proximate cause of accident.

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