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The Investigation of a Suspected Automotive Fraud Claim

TASA ID: 984

On Wednesday, March 30, 2011, at 2 p.m. ET, The TASA Group, Inc., in conjunction with Automotive Forensic expert Kenneth Zion, presented a free, one-hour, interactive webinar, The Investigation of a Suspected Automotive Fraud Claim, for all legal professionals.

This presentation discussed in detail various elements of a suspected automotive fraud including:
  • Witness marks and trace evidence
  • Lamp filament deformation
  • Crash Data Recorder (black box)

About the Expert
Dr. Kenneth R. Zion, owner of Automotive Collision Consultants, is an automotive collision and mechanical expert with over 40 years of automotive repair experience. He specializes in inspecting and analyzing vehicles for suspected repair fraud, failure analysis, staged accidents, and accident reconstruction. He maintains numerous automotive ASE / ICAR certifications and a Master certification in Automotive Collision / Painting.

As an automotive repair expert, Dr. Zion has inspected over 3000 vehicles. He has testified in civil / criminal cases, and in local, state, and United States district courts.

Recognized for his automotive expertise, Dr. Zion has been retained as the lead automotive expert in several notable cases including:
  • Allstate vs. Greg Abbott, Attorney General of Texas
  • State of California vs. Robert Blake
  • State of California vs. Vincent Brothers
In addition, Dr. Zion is a nationally renowned author and educator. He has taught classes for Special Investigations Unit (S.I.U.) teams, law enforcement auto theft task forces, automotive manufacturers, criminal / civil defense and plaintiff lawyers, and the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB).

Video Transcription:

Good afternoon. Welcome to today's webinar, The Investigation of a Suspected Automotive Fraud Claim. During this presentation, our presenter will, will discuss in detail various elements of a suspected automotive fraud including witness marks and trace evidence, lamp filament deformation, and Crash Data Recorder, black box. 

The presenter for today's program is Dr. Kenneth Zion, who's the owner of Automotive Collision Consultants. And he's an automotive collision and mechanical expert with over 40 years of automotive repair experience. He specializes in inspecting and analyzing vehicles for suspected repair fraud, failure analysis, staged accidents, and accident reconstruction. He maintains numerous automotive ASE/ICAR certification and a Master certification in Automotive Collision and Painting.

As an automotive repair expert, Dr. Zion has inspected over 3,000 vehicles. He has testified in civil and criminal cases in local, state, and district courts. Dr. Zion is recognized for his automotive expertise and has been retained as the lead automotive expert in several notable cases including Allstate vs. Greg Abbott, Attorney General of Texas, the state of California vs. Robert Blake, and the state of California vs. The Vincent brothers.

In addition, Dr. Zion is a nationally renowned author and educator. He has taught classes for the Special Investigation Unit team, law enforcement auto theft task forces, automotive manufacturers, criminal and civil defense and plaintiff lawyers, and the National Insurance Crime Bureau, the NICB.

If you have a question that pertains to this presentation, please use the chat feature or the Q&A features, which are found on the right-hand side of the screen to submit your question to Dr. Zion. We will be taking one question and answer break during the presentation, and a final one after the completion of the presentation of content.

Tomorrow morning, I will send out a link in the archive recording of the webinar. And we do ask that you take your time to fill out the feedback survey that will appear on your screen after the webinar is over. I now invite you to sit back, relax, and enjoy. I'm going to turn over our presentation to Dr. Ken Zion. Dr. Zion, the program is all yours.

Dr. Zion: Well, thank you. Hello, everyone. Thank you for joining me today. We will be talking about Investigation of a Suspected Automotive Fraud Claim. The presentation, as you know, is only an hour long. And, well, I did put the word detail in here. It says will discuss in detail the various elements. I'm trying to focus in on these three primary topics, basically, witness marks and trace evidence, lamp filament deformation, and the legendary Crash Data Recorder. I have some example case studies that I'll be delving into, and a little bit of co-mingling of all three of these in there. But hopefully, they'll provide you with some pretty visual clear indication as to what these three different topics are. Let's see what we have next.

And according to recent studies, just a little of a background, nationwide, over five billion a year is lost to automotive and auto body repair fraud. And I believe there's other studies that say the figure significantly higher than that. Citing why I'm out here in smoggy [SP] California, according to the Los Angeles District Attorney's office, over 400 million a year is lost to automotive and auto body repair fraud each year in Los Angeles. This statistic that I'm giving you here is actually the number of prosecuted cases, the dollar amount for prosecuted cases for automotive repair fraud in L.A. So, I suspect this number is significantly higher than that.

California Department of Consumer Affairs, most states have some aspect of a consumer affairs department. Well, in California, annually, this has been going on for the last several years. They have 20,000 consumers call in with bad auto repair experiences. They contact the department for help. So, this is a major, major, major issue in the state of California as it is with other states also. What else do we have?

One in forth Americans say it's okay to defraud the insurance company. That's rather scary. Nearly one in four U.S. adults say overstating the value of a claim to an insurance company is acceptable. More than 1 in 10 say they approve of submitting insurance claims for items that were not damaged. And above all, 40% of the respondents say they are unlikely to report somebody who has committed a fraud.

Types of repair frauds. The very top of the list here is failure to repair to estimate either items, or labor charges, or component charges. Whatever the case may be, but the estimate was not sufficed. So, what was itemized out on the estimate was in reality not completed. Going down from there, repairing a part, yet charging for a replacement part frequently, frequently, frequently done.

Charging for one type of part, but instead installing a cheaper part. When I say this, no offence to anybody that has any association with aftermarket parts, I'm saying cheaper in terms of financially cheaper, not in terms of quality of the part. But installing an OEM part versus an aftermarket part. So at a lesser cost, you're charging for the full price part. Charging for labor and services not provided or charging for repairing non-existing damage. And the last one down there is charging for repairing pre-existing damage. But all of these I found to be elements of aspects of repair fraud. And, again, the number one is failure to repair to estimate.

Many different entities can be involved in the detection and prevention of Automotive Fraud. Across the United States, we have the National Insurance Crime Bureau. We also have various aspects of law enforcement. In California, we have the California Department of Insurance. Other states have their own department of insurance, agents, and assignments, special Investigative Unit personnel, and the Bureau of Automotive Repair here in California.

Sometimes the automotive repair facility just has a different perspective of quality. So, sometimes it's a matter of perspective. Perhaps the shop doesn't think it's fraud. But let's take a look and see. More like this. The shop repairs this and they didn't quite get the color match perfect on there. It was just a little bit off. But I think this is a matter of some repair fraud here perhaps. They charged for the replacement of a new door.

Here is another one. This one was a little bit different. I think they were supposed to hang a quarter panel and they got a little confused on the type of car that they were working on. So, that was there. A little auto body humor.

Then the last one, if you look at this, this actually is pretty good. You have high and low beam. And the low beam should be to the outer most portion of the vehicle so that it defines the width of the car as you drive down the roadway, the high beam being on the inside. And so they hooked up the high and low beams for the front end of the vehicle. So, again, different types of repairs.

Witness marks. Let's get into the crux of the webinar today. Witness marks, transfer material, and remnant evidence can assist in an automotive investigation and in determining aspects of repair fraud. So...

What we have here is a vehicle. It's the right-rare quarter panel in the right-rare door of a vehicle that has some severe abrasions on the side of it. The topic here is witness marks and transfer material and the identification of basically these elements. When I look at this photograph, or you're looking at this photograph in front of you, you're seeing some horizontal, abraded scratches on the side of this door. Now, several things come to mind, is this purported to have been a vehicle part at the time that this damage occurred? Was he in motion? Is there the concept and whether or not they hit another vehicle, they hit a wall?

There's a whole bunch of different questions that arise at this. But probably the most primary one is, what's the direction of travel that created this damage, the offending object that contacted this, the movement between this vehicle and the offending object? How was the vehicle moving in there? So, as we look at this, the vehicle, according to what I have in front of you, basically was either going forward or the offending object was going rearward, to the left. You can see as evidenced by the red arrow there. That is my opinion as to the direction of travel of this damage.

Then I based this upon a couple of things. When we look at a door, the door has a rubber seal on it. The rubber seal going around the door, the inner perimeter of the door, is designed to block out the weather. So the rain, the wind, the noise, but it also aids in popping open the door. When you open the door, that rubber seal...when you close the door, the rubber seal compresses. When you open the door, the rubber seal extends slightly and helps push the door lock away from its tongue and open up the door for you. So, it's, kind of, like, a spring-loaded action.

When we look at the next slide here...There we go. Contact with the door depressed the door inward allowing the leading edge of the quarter panel to be scratched. So, as you can see, the arrow is pointing to the leading edge of the quarter panel. And you can see the front of that leading edge has been abraded and scratched. The only way that could really happen is if the door had been pushed inward.

If conversely was hit from the left to the right, it would catch the leading edge of the trailing edge of the door that didn't do that. You can see up on the door handle. You can see some damage up on the door handle. That clearly shows the initial contact and it's pushed the door and depressed the door. So, again, just little things, but trying to give you an idea of witness marks and transfer material on here. On this instance, it's showing the direction of travel of the impact.

The next slide up shows some rather quizzical scratches. Now, this is a continuation of the prior photographs from the same vehicle. But as you look at these pictures, I've drawn a red circle, circular loop, I should say, on the left portion of the screen. That's showing a change in direction. If you actually look at, and if I can get the pointer going here... Let's see. I have...I get this. I think I got a pointer here. Oh, no. Oh, anyway, I'm trying to get a pointer here, showing that there's some horizontal scratches going across. And then there's some angular scratches coming up into it.

And showing clearly on here that there are at least two sets of scratches that have been generated on this panel. And then there's a curved circular one off on the back showing the change in direction. So, this implies that there were multiple impacts to the side of this. In all likelihood, this vehicle in all likelihood was in motion and came up against a wall or some stout object and struck it down, stopped, and then changed direction. It bounced backwards against it. So, it's showing a little bit of movement here. Let's take a look.

Here is another one. Here is the side of a Honda. And, again, reflecting upon trace evidence or witness marks. There are all kinds of thick, yellow substance on the side of this vehicle. It goes over from the right door into the right quarter panel. And it travels along that area. Most tires are about 2 feet in height, it's about 24 inches.

So, it looks like it travels down to 24 inches. But wait. If you look up on that quarter panel, there's a high area, way up about the same height as the door handle and there's yellow paint in there. And that's easily 28, 30 inches high. So, something has struck the side of this and left a positive, this yellow particular on the side.

Let's get a close-up view of this. As we look at this, you could see the material has been deposited from the right to the left. It's cut. The door has moved inward. It's cut the leading edge of the quarter panel. But also in terms of just looking at the material, this yellow is not a typical automotive color. And the material, you can actually see it's built up. It has a rather large residue directly underneath that red arrow that I inserted on to the slide, thick material on there.

Generally speaking, most car paint, automotive paint, is in the ballgame of 3 to 5 mils thick, meaning three to five thousandths thick or giving you something that you can relate to, a piece of newspaper. It might be about 2 mils thick. So, a couple of pieces of a newspaper put together, sandwiched together is about the thickness of most automotive...original paints on there. This far exceeds that thickness on there. Is evidenced by that big blob of yellow paint on the side there.

Another thing that's a key element, when I talk about witness marks and transfer materials, is the basic understanding of license plates, the dimensional values of license plates. Most U.S. license plates, I think it's...Ohio is an oddball license plate if my memory serves me correct. But most license plates have a dimensional size of about 6 inches high, but it's about...but 6 inches high and 12 inches wide. The retaining holes in there, as shown on the slide, are 7 inches width wise and four and three-quarters high.

I bring this out for a couple of reasons. One is if you know the dimensional values of your state's license plates, and if you're looking at photographs, you could take a photograph that has a license plate in it. And as long as it's not totally skewed up on an angular view or something, but a license plate. And you can put a little tape measure up against that. And you could compute out the license plate is 6 inches wide in the photograph. Well, you can take and you can figure out how wide everything else is around it. So, it gives you the opportunity of using the license plate as a foundational measurement for the surrounding panels.

Now, from this also, in terms of trace evidence, here we have the back of a bumper cover off of a...I'm forgetting my...I think it was a Chrysler 300 or something. And if we look at the backside of this bumper cover, and lo and behold, at the bottom half of that, you can see the outline of a license plate. And furthermore, you can see the reverse imprint, and it says "California." And then you can see the little imprints from the retaining fasteners for the license plate.

With this, if you look close at the retaining fasteners, those two little prints, it has a little crosshatch in it. Those are Phillips, Phillips screws. So, not only can you know there was a license plate involved in smacking this car, you could measure the right height of this. And then you know that the offending vehicle that hit this car had Phillip screws retaining the license plate in place on it. So, it might be helpful.

And now we come to the Ford F150 as a case example here. The insured Ford F150 was reportedly driven home at night and parked in front of his house. When he came out in the morning, he found his Ford truck had been damaged. He subsequently had the Ford towed to his friend's body shop for repairs.

So, I was called out on this to take a look at this Ford and make a determination as to what the heck was going on with this car. How the damages, were they consistent with a vehicle that was parked and untended in front of his house? The extent of the damages. So, here's the Ford. Nothing, basically, had been done to the vehicle prior to my arrival except that they put it on a hoist.

As I came up to it, I hope you might also see what I'm looking at, it's rather high damages. And rather rough and the metal folded in here. And it just kinda looks like a very stout, impacted damages on the side of this vehicle, the left-front fender. Get up close to it, and you can see it's really folded the fender back significantly. It's really damaged the front bumper assembly, the light assembly. All of that area has been damaged and very irregular. So, it doesn't really look like he's hit a tree, but it doesn't look like it's been another typical car impact. It's just strange-looking damage on there.

Now, looking at it closer, and found some significantly rough, abraded, scratches, horizontal, very parallel, horizontal abraded scratches on the side of this left-front portion of the fender, highly irregular. This isn't something that I typically run across. It was a strange damage. Get into this a little bit more and I found a significant amount of white and brown paint transfer. Now, try, if you can, to look at the paints that's here and remembering a couple of slides back, the yellow paint. That yellow paint was very think, very high, bond paint on the side of it. This is smooth. It's been smeared. It's not really thick paint.

And, again, while it did have white on there, and let's see if I can get this pointed down here, we have white that's down in this area in here. Most of the smear that's going across the top is actually the clear coat of this ford's paint. The clear coat has been scratched. And when it's scratched, it turns to a milky color. So not to be confused between white paint and scratch clear coat. This actually had white transfer, and it had a light brown oxide transfer material onto it. Two different materials on there.

I grabbed a couple of samples. And I was very cautious in taking the samples. There's a protocol that I follow or anyone should follow. And you collect the samples, separate samples, you put them in some aspect of a collection device, whether it's a clean envelope, or a glass jar, or something. And then they are taken out to the laboratory for an analysis.

When I took the samples to a lab, the lab came back and gave me this. And it's highlighted down the bottom. Basically that I put the samples in a couple of jars. And they analyzed them with FT-IR analysis and said that such materials are used in automotive and refinishing coatings. So, not to belabor this, but my first impression on this was the damage was very high. It really didn't look like a vehicle impact to the vehicle. I'm trying to determine if this vehicle was parked and unattended. I'm trying to determine the origin of this damage.

I sent the material out to the lab, the transfer material I collected off of the side of the fender, and it comes back from the lab and it says, "Yeah, it could be automotive original and refinishing coating. It could be automotive paint." So, if you've never had this done before, I put this in not to get into the science end of it. But this is actually the, what I call, the footprint from the FT-IR analysis. And it's very interesting.

What they do is they take this little footprint that you see in front of you, and they can match it up to a database. And it will tell them that a similar material with this footprint, this is whether it's acrylic enamel, or whether or not it's an alkaline enamel, or whether or not it's a organic, inorganic material. But it helps them analyze this and give the lab an idea of what this material was. And this is the one of the print out from the FT-IR.

Anyways, back to the truck. So, now I'm standing there and I'm looking at this truck. Forget the time lapse for a minute. I know I went to the lab and I came back. But I did this, try to put this together as a cohesive PowerPoint for this presentation. But looking at this vehicle, it's got irregular damage on to it. It has automotive transfer...potentially automotive transfer on the side. And I decided to lift the vehicle up in the air and take a little bit closer look.

I come up to the fenders, one of the things, or a fender, the wheel assembly. And try to look at the wheel assembly to see if there's any evidence of road remarks. Meaning, the wheel, when it was hit, was it static or was the wheel moving? And if the wheel was in motion, there'll be cylindrical marks around the face of the wheel. So, I got looking closer up at wheel, and it was pretty much indeterminate. I'm not really seeing any long, arching damages around the face nor the rims. It was rather a strange damage onto it. Again, pretty much indeterminate.

I got underneath the vehicle and looked up underneath on the bottom side. And this, if you're not mechanically astute, this is the lower control arms, and the sway bar on the other side of this vehicle, this big frame truck. The arrows that are pointing here are just showing that there was a significant movement underneath the vehicle when the right-front, left-front wheel assembly was hit, it threw everything over. And the right-front wheel caused this rubbing action that we're seeing in here.

But as I get into it, I pulled up the schematic for you to kinda give you a visual as to what happened here. The left-front wheel assembly was hit. When the left front wheel assembly was hit, it rotated the wheels to the right. And it did so in such a fashion that it snaps off this sector shaft here off of the steering column. Again, assuming that the force came across, laterally across this and snapped off that bottom part. In this diagram, you looking at it, it may not look like much.

But when you actually physically now we got into this thing, this is a one in about one and an eighth-inch shaft. A monster, steel shaft that's in here that this Pitman arm was hooked up to. And bear with me for one moment here, these two guys as evidenced by this arrow, these two guys used to be connected up. And that's that huge shaft in the bottom of this. So, this left-front wheel took a massive impact to break off this shaft.

The reason I point this out is because once the shaft is broken, the Ford was immediately disabled and could not be driven. So, on face value alone, this implies that yes, the was a parked and unattended impact, parked out in front of his house. And somebody hit him, a hit and run and took off.

But, I said apparently it was parked and unattended, but what? What's one thing that I haven't looked for? And that's one of the three topics that I talk about today. One of the things that we haven't talked about this far, I've just talked about trace elements and witness marks, is filament lamp deformation.

So, if I get back into this vehicle, I look at the left-front headlight assembly. And I take it out. I pull it out and it's still intact. And you can see it there. It's got the little bulb there. Well, the housing has been damaged, but the bulb itself is still intact. I get a close up look at this. And on the left is the one out of the subject vehicle. The one on the right is an exemplar. I pulled it out to show what it should look like. It's an incandescent bulb. It has two posts sticking up with a filament tied between. It would be like a house light that we have on most houses, the incandescent lights.

We have a low beam and we have a high beam on this, hence there's two filaments. As you look at the picture on the right, the filaments are nice, perfectly conically shaped in a con going up, nice and neatly. You look at the one on the left and they're skewed. And not only are they skewed, but if you look at it closer, they're significantly deformed, twisted all over the place. And I think I have one more here.

And we look close at this, you can actually see this happens to be the low beam is on the left. The high beam is on the right. And if you look close at the bottom, both of these filaments have broken loose from their post. And there is a large globe of metal, tungsten, dripping down on the left side, and another similar one on the post and also on the right side.

This occurred when the filament, which was on at the time, so the lights were illuminated, the filament stretched out to the point where it separated at that post. And then the current attempted to jump across the separation and briefly melted the tungsten wire there. Similar to a fashion of arc welding, electric welding they use in different types of operations. Well, the same similar concept here. There was a little momentarily arching across there and it melted.

So, absolutely, in this instance, both the high beam and the low beam were indeed on at the moment of the impact. So, that begs the question, how could this car be parked and unattended yet both of the lamps showed filament deformation? Well, it wasn't. The car was in motion. The guy hit another vehicle. So, he had a hit and run. How he got the car, I don't know how he got his truck home or the vehicle home. He had it towed home by somebody or...I don't know. I never found that part of the assignment out, but he most assuredly was driving it at the time.

I'd like to back up just for one brief second. I want to show you one other thing. If we look at these two pictures, the one on the left clearly shows deformation. The one on the right does not. I want to be very, very clear. The one on the right could...forget about the Ford right now and just talking about the exemplar light as this single entity. That one on the right that could have been in an accident, and it could have been illuminated. There are a tremendous amount of variables that have to be taken into account that would involve with the deformation of the filament. How the bulb is mounted. How the headlight is mounted. How the core supportive is mounted. The retaining aspects of the fender.

So, the shock has to come into the lamp. And if the light is held in a rather flexible, movable arena, the headlight assembly is mounted by springs, a whole bunch of things, it could take a significant shock in the front-end with the lights on and not deform the filaments. Conversely, if the headlight is held in very stout and not allowed to move at all, and is very rigidly secured to the car, a lower degree of an impact can cause deformation. But just the fact that there is no deformation on the light does not mean the lights were not on.

The only way that this is actually useful is the picture on the left. If it does have deformation to it, it clearly implies that the lights were on eight seconds before, seconds were involved during the accident in there. And overwhelmingly, the lights were on at the moment of impact. But I didn't want to leave anybody with a mistaken impression. If you do not see lamp filament deformation, it means the lights weren't on. That's not true. It's the only...when you see the filament deformation that you can imply that the lights were on at the time of impact.

This also goes for tail lamp assembly, side marker lights, license plate lights. The little tiny peanut license plate lights is extremely useful on the analysis of an accident. And there it is. Summation, the Ford was damaged...was in motion when the damage was generated. And I think we have a question time now.

Matt: Yes, excellent. Thank you, Dr. Zion. We have one question that came in. And please for all the attendees out there, if you do you have a question for Dr. Zion, please use the chat feature or the Q&A feature on the right-hand side of the screen to submit them and we'll hopefully get to them.

When you were talking about the...and this question comes from Andrew. When you were talking about the...taking the sample off of the F150, you said that there were best practices for taking that sample. Could you describe, very briefly, what these best practices are, and if any of the organizations that you've mentioned previously have a list of best practices for taking a sample from a car that was in an accident like the F150 was?

Dr. Zion: Yes, there are...there's numerous what I would call protocols. I have a couple. I actually have a presentation that's a couple of hours long talking about the collection of evidence. But, first and foremost is, do not lose the evidence, and do not co-mingle, or damage, or alter the evidence. That's the two most important protocols is not losing the evidence, and not contaminating or altering the evidence.

And in terms of collecting it, the most frequent way is to use a sharp, clean, razor blade, a brand new razor blade, and you gently scrape off the material down to the metal base so that you take the transfer material that you visually see is on top of the paint of the vehicle. You scrap it off so that you get a sample that contains the underlining paint with the sample on, with the transfer material on top of it. And then you don't touch it with your hand, you try to take it with a razor blade.

Then you can put it into an envelope. You can put it into a glass jar that has never been used for anything else, a clean, virgin glass jar, a little collection jar. Do not put it in plastic bags. Plastic baggies release agents when they're manufactured and they can induce a contaminate into the process. So, I never use plastic bags, but a regular standard sized envelopes, letter envelopes are perfect for this. You can collect them and put them in there. But that's it in a nutshell in terms of protocol.

Matt: Okay, excellent. We have another question here who asked or another question that asked, "Are there certain economic conditions that lend themselves to the automotive fraud like DC? And I was thinking automotive fraud when certain economic conditions are present, or is it just based on that people are going to submit automotive fraud claims no matter what?

Dr. Zion: Well, I would express there are...statistical evidence put out a lot of stuff by the National Insurance Crime Bureau, NICB, that shows a relationship between the current state of the economy of either the state or the locality and the increase or decrease in car thefts and in fraudulent claims. So, I would refer, if you really would like clear stats, go back to the NICB and take a look at that because there's a lot of stats out on that, a lot of stats.

Matt: Okay, excellent. I don't see any other questions in the queue, so, why don't you continue on with the presentation of content. And probably attendees out there, if you do have any questions to Dr. Zion, please use the chat feature, the Q&A to submit them, and we'll get to them after the presentation of content is over. So, go ahead, Dr. Zion.

Dr. Zion: All right. Let's see what we have up next. You never know where evidence might be hiding. And leading with this, if you've never seen this before, this is the back side of Mount Rushmore. There's not a lot of people who have seen this photograph before. But that is the back side. All right moving right along.

Crash Data Recorder. The Crash data Recorder. In most vehicles, talking generically here, in most vehicles, the ignition key has to be in the on position in order to energize the supplemental restraint system. The supplemental restraint system, that's a whole bunch of multi-syllable words to say that an occupant's safety stuff that occurs without the active intervention of the driver or the passenger. Meaning, you clipping on a safety belt, that is not a supplemental restraint. That is a physical restraint that you are doing.

But things that occur without your knowledge during an accident beyond clipping up the safety belt generally are regarded into supplemental restraint systems such as the airbags. The driver doesn't flip up a switch and blow off the airbag right before the accident. So, I'm trying to differentiate this at the beginning here.

Supplemental restraint systems include airbags, the side airbags, the side curtains, and safety belt pretensioners. There's a lot of vehicles out there that have, in addition to regular safety belts, they have little pyrotechnic devices in the lurching or in the...either or the lurching or the retaining portion of it that ignite, at the moment of impact, and suck the safety belt against the occupant to keep them higher in the seat.

But, all of these, the airbags, side curtains, the seat belts pretensioners, they generally are not actuated unless the key is in the "on" position. And please, generally, there are some vehicles out there that these items are hot or live with the key off. But a vast array, probably 99% of the vehicles that I'm aware of, the key has to be on.

So, typically, an airbag control module, the things that identifies for the airbag deployment, gathers information from various vehicle sensors including wheel speed sensors, seat belt sensors, a whole bunch of different sensors on the car. It utilizes all these data and it says when to blow off the air bags, to blow them off or not to blow them off.

So, the later the model of the car, the more sensors on the car and the more information that can be gathered by this airbag control module. And potentially read at a later date. But, let's take a look. Not all deployment data is available. Currently, there's only three manufacturers that have openly provided their data. That's General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler. Now, again, we're talking about the Crash Data Recorder or what they call...slang term is the Black Box.

General Motors has gone back to I think to 1994. Ford is back to the early 2000s, and Chrysler is 2000s and something. 2003 I think is the first year of Chrysler. So, it's not all available. It's only basically the later model vehicles on the General Motors, Ford, and the Chrysler.

Toyota data is available on a limited basis. I just went out and was involved in a 2010 Toyota recently, and it had virtually no data on it. The Black Box was not setup to actually capture much data. So, it was rather surprising to me. But a lot of the Toyotas they do have the information on there, but you have to go through with conjunction with Toyota technicians to access any of this information.

The case study that I have up here today is basically, who was driving? The question that arose, the insured and his friend were out drinking at several different bars, and they reportedly took turns driving. After massive amounts of drinks, they crashed into a whole bunch of parked cars and they finally peter-paned off into a deep ravine. Meaning they flipped over into a deep ravine.

They crawled out of the wreckage and they passed out near the vehicle. And this honest...this is a true case. This actually happened. Neither one can remember who was driving when they crashed. So, the question was coverage. Who was driving the car at the time that the accident occurred?

And this was the vehicle in question that did some significant damage to it. And look at the next one up. And there we are on the other side. And they really had a lot of fun blowing around town and blowing. And you can look at the left rear wheel, it snapped it off coming off the ravine.

As part of the investigation, the Crash Data Recorder was accessed and imaged. I'd like to stop here for one brief second. Liken this to going on to your computer and you see the computer screen. You can access the information on CDR. You can access it. But you don't download it. You access it and you image it because you don't physically remove it. It's not, like, looking at a computer screen, and cut and paste, and you take it out. You can't really alter this information. You can't change it all. All you can do is what the term is called 'Imaging'. So, that's, that's the industry trade term is Imaging. So, you image the information that's on the Crash Data Recorder.

So, we got into this thing, and this was some of the data. There's the pages of data. I just happened to pull up the most important stuff. Looking at it, if you've never seen one of these before, this is the printout from a CDR off of this vehicle. It talks about the supplemental inflatable restraint, the warning lamp status was off, meaning the airbag light on the dash wasn't illuminated. Meaning, diagnostically, the truck is saying everything is okay. Before the accident, the air bag light wasn't on. So, the whole air bag system, everything was apparently functional on there. Diagnostically there wasn't an issue.

Take a look at the drivers in the passenger belt. Both of these guys were unbuckled. And the passenger seat position, a lot of these will tell you where the seat is, whether it's all the way up or all the way back. This can play important if you have a 5-foot tall person, exclude the driver. And you have a 6-foot tall person that is insured. And you inspect the vehicle, and you pull this data down, and the seat is all the way forward. Well, it wouldn't be all the way forward for a 6-foot tall person, but it would be for a 5-foot tall person.

So, it's some interesting information that can be gathered off this. And, again, significantly more than this. But there was a final...I brought it down to a change in speed, a change in velocity of about 19 miles an hour. Meaning, that was not how fast they were going, but that was the change, the instantaneous change that the truck fell going from X amount of miles to 19 miles less in almost... in a brief millisecond.

As we look at the next page on this, this is actually imaged off of there, that 5 seconds before, which is the upper left-hand corner, they were going 93 miles an hour. And if you'll notice on the right side, the throttle, they didn't have the throttle on. So, the foot was off the throttle and they were doing 93 miles an hour. At 4 seconds, they were doing 83 miles an hour. At 3 seconds they were doing 70. Two seconds, 62. At 1 second they were doing 56 miles an hour. So, this is 1 second before they peter-panned into the ravine. And they hit the throttle again.

So, at 1 second before they decided to nail the throttle of 87%, the graph below that shows 8 seconds before, they have the brakes off. Seven seconds brakes off. They hit the brakes at 5 seconds. And that correlates with the 5 seconds on the graph above, which shows the throttle position. Throttle was off and they were hitting their brakes, but they were still doing 93 miles an hour.

So, this s very helpful in terms of what were they doing at the time hitting the brakes, hitting the throttle. And, again, also there's numerous more data, or can be more data with this. I just cut to the chase on this because we don't have the time to go through all of these.

During the event, both frontal airbags were deployed. Hitting back into the concept of trace evidence and witness marks for a brief moment, trying to co-mingle all of these together, blood was found on the driver's airbag. And here it is. Took the airbag. Somebody was asking earlier about collection of evidence, work with the lab. From the lab, they gave me the collection bags. They took the airbag out. I handled it with gloves. I put it into the collection bottle. And I took...or into the collection bag. And I took it out to the lab.

Also took a buccal swab of the insured's mouth, the driver. And so the idea behind this is to match the blood on the airbag, the driver's airbag, to the insured to see who was actually driving it. Not to promote anybody. This just happens to be one of many human identification technologies utilized out here in California. I said one in many. It's very difficult to find somebody to do a DNA test of airbags. If you want a DNA test for a final DNA test, you can get everybody under the sun to do that stuff.

But for this, it's is very hard to get a non-criminal case found at an airbag coming at DNA testing. But the human identification technologies, they ended up analyzing the airbag blood and said that excludes the male donor. So, I did a test of the swab, the test of the driver, the insured. We didn't know he was the driver. Whoever the insured was. And then tested the airbag, and they did not match, showing that the insured was actually in the passenger seat. 

And sometimes the evidence can be hidden. What do we have here? We have this. We have a pick-up truck. I brought this up to show you talking about photographs and how photographs can be totally absolutely deceiving. When I look at the side profile of this Dodge Ram. It's got a beautiful little Yamaha motorcycle in the back. And you actually even see the fuel for the motor tank, the fuel tank container right there for it.

And yet if we look from the back side of the same vehicle, it's a drag truck. They've cut off the whole bottom side of the motorcycle, the bottom side of the fuel tank, and they're sneaking drugs across the border down here. And they painted it all black so, apparently, from the helicopters, when they view it overhead. So, again, photographs, just trying to show a little bit how deceiving they can be.

Reported, the wheels are stolen. We have a 2003 Dodge within...Dodge truck within the middle vehicle of a three-vehicle collision. The Dodge sustained front and rear impact damage. While parked in an Auto Body repair storage lot waiting for the repairs, he had $7,500 worth of aftermarket rims and tires were purportedly stolen off of this truck. So, magically, the thieves jumped over the fence, they stole the $7,500 with the Giovanni tires and rims off this guy's truck. And they happened to bring along a set of four OEM wheel assemblies, and they put the wheel assemblies back on this guy's truck. So, the question at hand is, is this true or what happened here?

So, I got into...This is the truck. This is the storage facility. And the...some repairs had already initially been done. They pulled off the headlights and grille work onto this. There was some evidence of minor front-end damage on to it. So at some degree of validity of a front-end impact. I came around to the rear, and the rear had old damage. Not to belabor this. I didn't have the time in the short hour progress or presentation here, but the bumper was rusted. There was a lot of telltale evidence on the rear clearly showing that this was old damage on the back. I don't think this vehicle was involved in a three-car accident.

But working back to the front, the question at hand is did this vehicle have different wheels and tires on it recently? In the context of being parked in this storage lot, did the thieves come over here, take off these set of wheels and tires, and place these wheel that we're seeing in the front of this here? Did they re-bolt this back on here as they did the other three? I just randomly picked the wheel assembly. I happened to pick the right front. It was the easiest to get to. And I wanted to investigate this and see if this wheel had been recently installed on the vehicle.

I got a close up of it, undisturbed, the leg nuts, there's no evidence of wrench marks or witness marks indicating that this has recently been up. No fingerprints around, disturbance around it, any recent evidence of access at all. I lifted up the vehicle, also for the sake of gravity here, I didn't show the torque wrench. I used a torque wrench to take it off to see if the lug nuts have been torqued on there, and a whole bunch of other small incremental steps.

But elevated the vehicle, took the wheel assembly off. And now I'm going to be trying to look at the matching faces. These two components have to fit together in where the wheel assembly and the rotor hub, were they made together? Do they match? Does this look like it's been a long-term involvement? So, let's take a look.

I get a close up look at the rotor hub, and as I get on to the rotor hub, I'm noticing there's an eyebrow of bare metal at the top. And two little almost like eyeballs at the bottom in here. And this is continuous around the perimeter of this. There's these little eyebrow spots. I get close up look at this and you can clearly see, there is a indentation at the top and two on the bottom. There's a witness mark or a transfer on here. And also, if I may, if you'll note to the left and to the right, those are the wheel studs sticking out.

When a aluminum magnesium wheel is installed on a car, unless you're extremely careful, you're going to abrade some of the aluminum-magnesium material onto these threads on the left and right stud. The threads act as a file. And you put the wheel on here, it will transpose some of the aluminum-magnesium material into the threads on the left to right of these studs on here, none of which I saw. But the focus on this, now looking at the wheel, that's the face, the inside mating face of the wheel. And coincidentally, I see similar marks.

Now when I mate them up left and right to one another, hopefully, you can all see this, there is the exact match here. There is no doubt in my mind of the rim is steel. It has rusted into it. The rotor is steel. It's a cast iron material. It has rusted and you can see a transference of the same coloration of rust.

And you can see the clear material from a contact surfaces on this from the rim coming up against the rotor. You can see the eyebrow, the two little eyeballs on the end. So, absolutely, the wheels were torqued properly. No evidence of aluminum-magnesium transfer material on any of the studs. And the mating surfaces matched up perfect on this. So, there's no evidence at all that the guy ended up having any other wheels on this in recent memory.

And then also the capital on this is that unbeknownst to a lot of individuals, the tires are date stamped. If you look at the last digits of the Department of Transportation number, this is a close up of the wheel, it has 1403, the 14th week of 2003 is when this tire was manufactured. If you go back to the truck and you look at the truck on the driver's door area, there is a label on there that is put on, installed at the time of manufacture and they call it the compliance label. It's a white label. And on that white label, it is dated on there, and it gives the month and the year that the vehicle was made.

And the month and the year, I think was April, or yeah. It was March. March of...No, it was April, whatever the month was. I forget any more. But it matched up with the production date of the tires matched the production date of the year of the Dodge. And also the spare tire, which was a full-size spare, also contained a date of manufacture of the 14 the week of 2003. And yet the spare tire, by the owner's own admission, was not stolen and was left on the vehicle. They only stole the four wheels, the service wheels on there. So totally bogus. This whole claim was not proper.

Summation, the wheel assemblies on the Dodge were original equipment manufactured and had not been stolen. And that's it. That's the end and here we are with special equipment on a couple of SUV vehicle out there.

Matt: Okay, great. Thank you so much, Dr. Zion, for a great presentation. I know, personally, I'm not a legal professional, but I learned a lot about cars. So, thank you for that. We're now opening it up for questions. So, if any attendees have questions, please submit them using the chat feature or the Q&A feature. And we'll get to them in the order that they come in.

And Dr. Zion, there are a couple of questions that have come in while you were speaking. You said, with relation to deployment data, only GM, Chrysler, and Ford are readily available. And Toyota makes some of their data available. Why do some car manufacturers allow for their data to be accessible while others do not?

Dr. Zion: Well, I would... I went over that very quickly because of the time constraint. Other data is available. You can get into some of the Mercedes. There are...other data is available but is what they consider to be proprietary and they don't like to have that stuff released unless it's under court order. So, in terms of lawsuits, I've been involved in ones where they have turned the information over as a result of conjunction with the lawsuit. But why some make it readily available and some do not, I don't know that. I suspect it has to do with the proprietary information that's on there. I truly don't have that answer to tell you. I don't know.

Matt: Well, okay. And then a follow up to that which was sent into us, "How does deployment data that is available or can be made available, what is the most crucial for the investigator to review, and what data do you look at [inaudible 00:51:59]? The data that you put on the train or the other data points that go to investigate automotive fraud claims should concentrate their attention on?

Dr. Zion: Perfect question. And please understand me when I say this. I'm generalizing the statement that I'm about to say. This is a very general statement that there are, as I look at it, two aspects of the Crash Data Information. One, looking at the...from the occupant aspect and the other one looking from the action or reconstruction aspect. In terms of a fraud investigation, what I expressed to you, what I showed you up here is probably the critical stuff.

The seat position, the speed, the break, the throttle, the engine RPM, those aspects are controlled by the occupant, the driver. And those are areas that are typically looked at, that I showed you on the slide, from an investigative aspect on to how fast were they going? Did they hit the brakes? Did they hit the throttle instead? Were they speeding? A wide array of things.

In terms of the accident reconstruction, there's crash pulse data. There is a whole bunch of other things that can be pulled out...derived from the data that is very helpful in assisting the reconstruction of the accident and whether...I don't wanna say who caused whatever but in terms of determining all of the elements of the accident.

But most individuals that will be looking at it from a fraud aspect, won't concern themselves with that arena at all. They really won't be interested in that arena. More so with how fast were they going? Did they have the brakes on? Did they have the throttle on? So the basic elements or materials that's normally found in the first couple of pages of the data.

Matt: Excellent. Thank you. We have a question here from Brad who asked, "Dr. Zion, referenced six types of insurance fraud. What was the last one after fixing non-existing damage?"

Dr. Zion: Well, let's go back up and take a look and see. Been three. How do I do this? That way?

Matt: So, if you click on the arrow pointing down from [inaudible 00:54:22].

Dr. Zion: I got it. I know. There we go. Okay. Got you.

Matt:... to be able to jump slide to slide.

Dr. Zion: Now let's see. Let's see. And I apologize. We're going up or down? Let's see. Up, up, up., up. Let's see. There we go, right there. [inaudible 00:54:44] and charging for repairing a pre-existing damage. I apologize. I don't have it all memorized. But that should help you out. And there are more. There's the list of about 20, but these are the main critical ones that I have found to be most prevalent in different investigations that I look at. Did that help out?

Matt: Oh, yeah. No. Definitely. Thank you for talking back to that slide. And we have one final question that came in here. And, you know, we do have a couple of extra minutes here. So, if any attendees have a question out there that they would like to submit to Dr. Zion, please use the chat feature to submit it.

But the example that you gave was, or any example that you gave, was blood on the airbag and how you went through the process of determining whose blood that was. Would you follow the same process if blood was found on the dashboard or some other part of the car?

Dr. Zion: Well, that is a good question. The reason the airbag was selected was because, in all likelihood, that would be reflective of the individual that was sitting immediately adjacent to...I'm sorry, immediately in front of the airbag. There was other blood found on this vehicle. There was some, I believe, on the dash. There was some found on the door exiting the vehicle, different areas. But I would express that the airbag choice was correctly used because in all likelihood that would be adjacent to, or from the individual that was in that seat position. So, that is why the airbags were selected.

Matt: Okay. Excellent. I don't see any other questions in the queue. So, Dr. Zion, I'll open up to you. If you wanna have any closing remarks, please go forward. And if not, I'll just wrap up today's program. 

Dr. Zion: I just want to thank you all. I hope it was interesting and informative for you. And I just cut down about a four-hour presentation down into one hour. That was pretty tight for me. So, hopefully, you enjoyed it. I appreciate your attendance. Thank you very much.

Matt: That was great. And Dr. Zion, thank you for the time that you put into putting this presentation together. I thought it was great. And I think there are a lot of takeaways for those who attended. 

I'd like to thank Dr. Zion again for his time, but I'd also like to thank you for spending an hour of your time with us today. If you'd like to speak to Dr. Zion about a case or project, you can contact us here at TASA. The telephone phone number is (800) 523-2319.

As I said, in the introduction, I will be sending out links of the archive recording of this webinar tomorrow morning. And we post all of the archive to recordings to all of our webinars in our Knowledge Center, which can be found by going to the TASA homepage, and clicking on the Knowledge Center tab.

If you have any follow up questions or comments, we do take your comments under advisement, and they help us to put on better programs. Please email me at You will be receiving an automated email from me at 3:30 p.m. today thanking you for attending today's event. And you can just reply to that email with any of your questions or comments.

Otherwise, I look forward to seeing you at future TASA programs. And please let me know if I can be of any assistance. Thank you so much.

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  • I have used TASAmed a number of times and have always been happy with your give-and-take timeliness. Once I requested a medical expert in a particular field, but, after speaking with your referral advisor, we concluded that an expert in another field would be more effective. That same day, I spoke to two experts the advisor gave me, and I retained one."

    Mark A. Lope, Esq., Lope and Honlihan, Butler, PA

  • Very close to the time of trial, the TASAmed advisor quickly referred me to several experienced ER trauma physicians to review medical records and prepare me for cross-examination. After selecting my expert, I over-nighted records for review, and the doctor found valuable information for my client's defense. Thank you, TASAmed, for this timely, specific, valuable referral."

    Charles Morgan, Esq., Law Office of Charles L. Morgan, Jr., Charlotte, NC