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New York Courts Recognize Validity of Biomechanical Experts

In the age of developing technology, biomechanical experts have more tools at their disposal when examining how a motor vehicle accident may have occurred.  In general, biomechanics is the science of how the human body responds to applied external and internal forces.  In litigating a motor vehicle accident, a capable biomechanical engineer may be able to examine specific injuries and use reverse engineering to determine if the event in question caused the purported injuries.

A recent Second Department decision emphasized the Court’s recognition of the validity of biomechanical experts at trial.  In the case of Shah v. Mo. M. Rahman, the Court upheld a trial court’s ruling not to grant plaintiff’s counsel’s application to hold a Frye hearing before admitting into testimony of a defense biomechanical engineering expert.

Before expert testimony is admitted in New York State, the testimony must meet New York’s Frye standard.  The standard which developed from the 1923 federal case Frye v. United States, holds that expert testimony must be based on scientific methods that are sufficiently established and accepted in the relevant scientific community. Therefore, for a biomechanical engineer’s testimony to be admissible at trial, the Court must recognized biomechanics as accepted within the relevant community.

In the case of Shah, the Court was tasked with the question of whether a Frye hearing was required before the testimony of a biomechanical engineer was allowed.  The biomechanical engineer’s testimony was “to the effect that the collision could not have caused the plaintiff’s injuries.”  In an attempt to keep the evidence from reaching a jury, the plaintiff’s attorney’s filed a motion arguing that the testimony was not based on generally accepted principles and methodologies and that there was not a proper foundation for the admission of the experts opinion.

In analyzing the standard, the trial court judge explained that he had previously presided over a trial where the same expert’s testimony regarding biomechanics and causation was admitted.  He therefore allowed the testimony of the biomechanical engineer to go forward. The jury then found in favor of the defendant.  The plaintiff then brought about the appeal.

The Second Department unanimously held that no Frye hearing is required simply because the plaintiff had made an application for the hearing.  The Court elaborated by stating that “a Court need not hold a Frye hearing where, as in the case at bar, it can rely upon previous rulings in other court proceedings as an aid in determining the admissibility of the proffered testimony.” Thus, the Second Department held the testimony was admissible, and showed an acknowledgement for biomechanical science in general.

The recent Second Department decision falls in line with decisions in the other departments.  In 2014, the First Department unanimously held in the case of Vargas v. Sabri, that a biomechanical engineer’s education, background and experience rendered him qualified to testify without the need of a Frye hearing.  In the Third Department case of Fitzpatrick v. Currie, the Court accepted an affidavit of a biomechanical engineer in support of a summary judgment motion.  Lastly, in the Fourth Department’s 2016 case of Stamps v. Prudettithe Court allowed the testimony of an expert with an advanced degree in medical engineering to testify as to the biomechanics of the collision.

The Shah decision adds to the consensus that a biomechanical engineer’s testimony may be valuable in assessing a plaintiff’s injuries resulting from a motor vehicle accident.

To read the full decision click here.

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