Champlain Valley Law September 2019


99 Maple Street | Middlebury | VT | 05753 • 57 Court Street | Plattsburgh | NY | 12901 802-465-4012 • 518-594-6046 Champlain Val ley Law R. Drew Palcsik Attorney at Law PLLC The Case for Physics in the Courtroom

MIST Injury: Moderate Impact Soft Tissue Injury. Sounds simple enough, at least, simple enough to fit in a four-letter acronym. You’re at the wheel of your car waiting for the light to change. Your car gets thumped from behind by another car. The driver —we’ll call him Joe — was texting or just not paying attention. Your car jumps forward; your back, neck, and head are flung and bent and twisted. The result is injury, pain, and disability. There you go. You have costs, and Joe has insurance. So, why do attorneys and insurance companies go to court in Joe’s defense? Why do they think they can win? Well, for one thing, it does look complicated. There are so many man- made and anatomical pieces between Joe’s bumper and your head. It looks complicated enough to cast doubt on your claim. So, why would your attorney make your case using physics and engineering? Most jurors don’t have degrees in science and math. Better to stay away from that stuff, right? Well, maybe not. A few lines from now, I’ll try to convince you that well-crafted use of engineering fundamentals in the courtroom can actually help you win your case. I’m an engineer. Over the past 50 years, I’ve put most of my work into the human body and how it interacts with the physical world. This really is a challenge. But since about 1960, I and several hundred thousand other scientists and engineers have invented and applied the field of biomedical engineering. An explosion of fundamental knowledge and health technologies has resulted. At the core of this vast field is the simple idea that, for all its complexity, the human body and its functions can be studied and understood using the same words and principles used to engineer buildings, computers, and cars. And I claim that these words and principles have practical value for winning your case.

and force and mass . Every time they’ve ridden a bike or thrown a ball or shaken out a rug — or driven a car — they’ve lived that physics. The right reasoning can build on what people know from experience to describe and quantify what happened in your neck. The ideal expert to tell this story is an engineer (like me) who has taught mechanical engineering or physical science to nonscientists. A fourth (and seemingly paradoxical) reason to do physics-based reasoning for jurors, is that the language and concepts of physics can actually simplify understanding of the whole collection of parts and materials that shape and transmit the rear-bumper event to your neck. Their form and properties are complicated. But in the end, the force and acceleration event at your neck depends only on how the overall mass and springiness and shock-absorbing action of that system passed the energy of the collision to your spine. I hope to have another opportunity here to weigh in on this general topic or offer some practical mini lessons. I look forward to reactions to this article and to providing my services as an expert. Reach me at 802-233- 8767 and

First of all, for 300 years, Newton’s physics have given us a precise language for actions and objects, a language whose words always mean the same thing . Arguing about the collision that your neck endured, an event that none of the jurors or attorneys actually witnessed, can get pretty vague. But that event — as seen from your injured neck — can be described accurately using just a few uniquely defined quantities. There can be no argument about what force and acceleration and mass mean. “A horrendous jolt” and “violent wrench” have no accepted definitions or units. Certainly misstatements and misleading assertions using the terminology of science can be made by the defense. But that’s actually the second reason for your team to be comfortable with reasoning based in physics. The same precision that your attorney can gain from physics-based testimony can be used to refute pseudo-scientific baloney from the defense. A third reason is that “regular” people actually know more physics than we think. They’re well-versed in the rules of the physical world from everyday experience. Your attorney, working with the right expert, can build on that experience to offer a convincing and valid description of how you got hurt when Joe’s car bumped yours. Jurors and other humans have an intuitive understanding of acceleration

-Mike Ro sen | 1

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