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Trejo v. Ford

Bioengineer Joseph Peles Details the Disastrous Consequences of Rollover, En Route to $4.5M Award

The Expert: Joseph Peles, a bioengineering expert and accident reconstruction expert, who testifies for the plaintiff about the forces that led to the death of Rafel Trejo.

By Dr. Gary F. Gansar, MD, FACS
Senior Physician Medical Director, AMFS

A 2014 Nevada product liability trial examined claims that roof crush from the rollover of a Ford Excursion killed Rafael Trejo. Testimony was given for the plaintiff by Joseph Peles, a bioengineer with a specialty in injury biomechanics. In this video clip, Peles displays a life-sized model of the cabin of the truck in which he has reproduced the exact level and extent of the collapse of the roof due to the Excursion’s rollover.

The expert explains that he placed a test “surrogate” in the seat of the reproduced vehicle with the surrogate’s head under the simulated crushed roof in order to determine how much that would compromise the surrogate’s breathing. This would only approximate the problem, Peles notes, since the surrogate’s head could not fit exactly where Trejo’s head had been trapped in the actual vehicle. Thus, his situation would have been worse because of this and the concomitant injuries he suffered, including a fractured neck.

Peles then introduced the surrogate at trial. She was slightly smaller than the victim had been, yet when she sat within the model, Peles notes that she “had significant compromise of her neck.” He continues, “Her neck is kinked, and she is turning red,” before he quickly instructs her to get out from under the “crushed roof,” with the implication that no one should be held in such a position for very long. Peles then states that this would have been the position that Trejo was in relative to the roof, but he would have been upside down with the weight of his body pressing his head against the ceiling, neck broken and bent.

In this way, the expert demonstrates readily that the victim was trapped, and he offers his opinion that being trapped in this position would have compromised Trejo’s breathing. This was confirmed in his multiple tests out of court with the surrogate, which resulted in his observing that she had trouble first getting her head in the crash position, that her face turned red while she was placed there, and that she seemed to have trouble breathing and had difficulty verbally communicating with him during these tests. The doctor felt it was unwise to keep her in even that static test position “for any significant amount of time.”

Peles also affirms that the victim’s position compounded the injury by using a football analogy that many can relate to. A neck injury is worse if you are trapped under a pile of players, he says, because there is continued bending, continued “assault,” and problems breathing in that position.

Peles’ graphic depiction, accurately portraying the conditions of the fatality, helped carry the trial with jurors awarding $4.5 million.

About the Author Dr. Gary F. Gansar, MD, FACS

Gary Gansar, MD, is residency-trained in general surgery. He served as Chief of Surgery and Staff at Elmwood Medical Center and on the Medical Executive Committee at Touro Infirmary and Mercy Hospital in New Orleans, LA. Dr. Gansar was Board Certified in general surgery while in active practice. He joined AMFS in 2015 as a Physician Medical Director.

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