Investigating a Crash Avoidance Technology (CAT) Case
Investigating a Crash Avoidance Technology (“CAT”) case will be familiar to any attorney who has handled an auto product liability case. However, there are unique aspects to investigating and handling a CAT case that require special knowledge and attention. The key to a strong case starts with thorough and efficient investigation into the viability of the potential claim.
Most of us are familiar with the initial steps of investigating an auto products crashworthiness case, such as preserving the vehicle, gathering scene evidence, obtaining medical records, and determining the cause of the injuries. These steps are important in a CAT case as well, however, there are some additional items to be mindful of in a CAT case. If a client is injured in a seatback collapse case, we are most concerned about preserving the vehicle our client was in. For example, if a client was struck from behind by a 2016 Honda CRV and we are investigating a case for failure to equip the Honda CRV with automatic emergency braking (AEB), we must take immediate steps to preserve the Honda vehicle. This can prove difficult as the car is not our clients. We must immediately send a spoliation letter to the owner and insurance carrier of the other vehicle to make sure it is preserved and possibly take steps to purchase the vehicle.
For any potential CAT case, one of the first steps is identifying, locating, and preserving the evidence. It is important to ensure that both your client’s vehicle and the defendant’s vehicle are preserved. Most CAT cases will involve claims that the Defendant’s vehicle was defective for failure to equip the vehicle with CAT, or, if it is equipped with CAT, the defect will be with the CAT system. Once the vehicles are located, purchased, moved, and secured, there are a number of steps that need to be taken, and important resources to be aware to help develop the theory of the case. It is important that these steps be done quickly to determine whether it is a viable case and avoid spending unnecessary time and money down the line.
Like all auto crash cases, there are a number of initial records that are important to obtain quickly including the police report, EMT trip sheet, medical records, repair service records, and the black box or Event Data Recorder (EDR). What some people may not know is that if a car is equipped with CAT, the EDR data will show valuable information about those CAT systems. The data below is taken from a vehicle that was equipped with multiple CAT safety features.
The data lists each CAT system, providing valuable information about whether the system was turned on or off, and whether it engaged before the collision. While this is only a first step in any investigation, it can help point you in the right direction and narrow your investigatory focus.
In addition, it is important to take detailed video and/or photographs of the crash site (Google Earth is pretty helpful too). Examining and taking photos of the crash site is necessary in all crashworthiness cases, but for CAT cases, it is essential because much of the technology relies on road markings to function. Most CAT equipped vehicles utilize cameras, radar, and lidar to view and map the road and identify potential hazards. For example, in a case involving Lane Keep Assist technology, clearly marked road lines are essential for the technology to work properly. If the crash occurred on a road with faded or unidentifiable painted lines, or as is often the case country roads with no painted lines it is much less likely that Lane Keep Assist would work. Weather conditions on the day of the crash are important as well. For example, perhaps the painted lines were covered in snow, or it was foggy. A thorough scene investigation can help you begin to understand whether CAT would have made a difference in the crash. For example, Toyota says that their automatic emergency braking system may not work when you’re driving on a hill, it might not spot vehicles with high ground clearance, or those with low rear ends, it may not work if the camera covered by dirt, blocked by a wiper blade, or it may not function when the sun shines directly on the vehicle ahead, or into the camera mounted to the vehicle. Any inclement weather that causes low visibility, like fog, rain, or snow may prevent CAT from working as intended. Lane Keep Assist may not work if the roadway is curved. Another tip is to always look for video footage of the crash, for example, a convenience store security camera may have caught your crash on video.
One of the first experts we typically utilize in a CAT case is an accident reconstructionist. We try to get a handle on exactly how the crash occurred so we can analyze whether had the car been equipped with a CAT feature (Lane Keep Assist, Automatic Emergency Braking, Blind Spot Assist) the safety feature would have made a difference in avoiding or mitigating the crash and your client’s injuries. Finding a good accident reconstructionist can help you quickly identify whether you have a viable case. While the initial research is valuable, it is not always easy to tell whether CAT would have made a difference, or if the vehicle was equipped with CAT, what the accident scene can show about what may have caused the system to malfunction or fail.
Researching CAT and Locating Testing Materials
In order to determine whether there is a viable CAT case, we should conduct research and locate testing on available CAT systems. Don’t underestimate the power or a simple Google search. This is an easy and quick way to gather promotional and advertising materials from the car manufacturers. Many manufacturer websites contain descriptions of how the technology works, with videos of actual vehicles or animations illustrating how the safety features work and how well they function to avoid crashes. Additionally, each manufacturer has their own names and terminology for various CAT systems. For example, GM refers to CAT equipped on their vehicles as “Active Safety Technologies”. Honda refers to CAT as “Collision Mitigation Systems”. It’s important to use the correct terminology for whatever vehicle is involved in your case and be aware of the resources that are publicly available from the car manufacturer.
Other resources to learn about and stay updated (to the extent one can) on CAT are the NHTSA and IIHS websites. Both websites contain information about the various different CAT systems available, how they are supposed to work, and when available, testing ratings for vehicles equipped with CAT. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) and the European New Car Assessment (Euro NCAP) are just a few other valuable resources to be aware of. For more detailed, technical research on various CAT systems and their effectiveness, the IIHS and Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) have numerous free studies available on their website. These studies can help us better understand our CAT cases, and educate and become aware of what technologies are available, how long they have been around, and how effective they are.
We need to understand CAT in a broader sense to effectively investigate our cases. We need to identify peer vehicles equipped with the same or a similar system and how they function. We need to not only identify testing for our vehicle but also the peer vehicles.
Many of the same resources that will help us gather research about CAT will also aid us in finding testing of CAT systems. YouTube is also an easy and valuable resource to take advantage of to locate testing. Many of the same research resources identified above operate YouTube channels that have numerous videos showing CAT in action.
As with every other case you investigate, doing the proper investigation and research is a fundamental key to success.