Value of Pictures in Auto Accident Cases
Bruce Jenner was involved in a fatal car crash earlier this month. The investigation is still ongoing. But law enforcement has rare evidence at its disposal to determine exactly what happened during the moments leading up to and during the wreck. Usually, investigators must rely upon often missing or inconsistent witness testimony, skid marks, debris patterns, automobile damage and injuries analysis to figure out what happened. Even information obtained from the black box can have limited usefulness.
However, Mr. Jenner’s accident was recorded in a series of photographs taken by paparazzi who happened to be following the former Olympic gold medal winner and reality television star.
Photos Could Create Problems for Jenner
The photographs were published by the celebrity gossip site TMZ under a headline that says it all: “Bruce Jenner Car Crash Photos Could Create Problems for Jenner.”
A key sticking point in the investigation is the order in which the four-vehicle collision occurred. Eyewitnesses initially reported that the driver of a Lexus ran into a Toyota Prius that braked suddenly at a light and that Mr. Jenner then ran into the Lexus, sending the car into the path of an oncoming Hummer that killed the Lexus driver. If law enforcement determines that this is the case, Mr. Jenner would simply be one link in a tragic chain reaction.
The pictures appear to depict a different sequence of events that could expose Mr. Jenner to liability and even potential criminal prosecution. In the series of photos, Mr. Jenner appears to notice the stopped or slowed traffic as he approaches and swerves to the right. His SUV hits the Lexus, causing the car to ricochet to the left into the opposite-bound traffic lane. The SUV then may have continued forward into the Prius. This interpretation is also consistent with other evidence, including damages to the various vehicles involved in the accident.
A Picture Speaks a Thousand Words
Eyewitness testimony about the Jenner crash is inconsistent, with some witnesses claiming that the Lexus ran into the Prius first. This eyewitness discrepancy is common in car accident claims and, in fact, in almost every event of importance. Unfortunately, eyewitness testimony is fallible, not because people are necessarily lying, but because we are just prone as human beings to mistakes in perception and memory. In a talk published in the Stanford Journal of Legal Studies, psychology and law experts explain why a witness’s memory is unreliable:
“The fixation on witnesses reflects the weight given to personal testimony. As shown by recent studies, this weight must be balanced by an awareness that it is not necessary for a witness to lie or be coaxed by prosecutorial error to inaccurately state the facts–the mere fault of being human results in distorted memory and inaccurate testimony.”
Pictures, on the other hand, show what is going on at the precise time it is happening. Law enforcement is fortunate to have this crucial evidence upon which to make an accurate determination about what happened in the fatal Jenner crash. In addition, if the TMZ photos were also time-stamped, accident investigators can compare texting times on phone records with the times in each photo frame to determine whether texting was a factor in the Jenner crash.