Our client was a thirty five year old, nice looking, pleasant, female tourist from Australia who was walking north on a sidewalk on the east side of Las Vegas Boulevard, returning to the Sahara Hotel. The date was July 25, 2005, a typical hot summer day. High Rise Company (HRC) was building a new tower to the east of Las Vegas Boulevard, and was required to engage in dust suppression measures. On July 25, 2005 at approximately 3:00 p.m., a water truck being driven by HRC employee HR was connected to a water main valve that was located just east of the fenced property line running east of, and parallel to, the sidewalk on the east side of Las Vegas Boulevard South. HR drove away from the water main without first disconnecting it causing the water main to break. Water and debris flowed “like a geyser” from the HRC property past the fence and onto the sidewalk. At about this time, our client, Plaintiff was walking northbound on the sidewalk on the east side of Las Vegas Boulevard South in front of the HRC site and in the area where water and debris had flowed. At this very moment, a city bus was heading northbound on Las Vegas Boulevard South approaching Sahara Avenue when it struck Plaintiff throwing her forward and causing serious and permanent injuries.
As a result of the accident, Plaintiff sustained multiple severe skull fractures, a left posterior hemorrhagic contusion, and several subdural hematomas. She had an intra-occipital infarct, and various other severe problems. Suffice it to say, our client has severe brain damage. She has no memory to speak of. When shown pictures of herself, she cannot even recognize herself. She is blind as to facial recognition and is not able to track visually. She has significant comprehension and naming difficulties, substantial cognitive and physical impairments and requires help with most activities of daily living. She will need 24 hour care for the rest of her life. Her damages are permanent. Experts estimated her life time needs to be between $5,000,000 and $9,000,000.
The issue in the case involved a dispute as to exactly when the water main broke in relation to when the accident occurred, and when it was turned off. Two HRC employees testified that the water had been turned off for thirty to forty-five minutes before the accident happened, and that most of the water had evaporated and the debris cleaned up before the accident. Other witnesses stated the water was still flowing at the time of the accident and caused Plaintiff to slip in front of the bus. A 911 call was made within a minute or two of the accident and was recorded at 3:26 PM, establishing the time of the accident as approximately 3:24 PM to 3:25 PM.
The facts were complicated by the timing of the arrival of the police. The lead detective for Metro arrived on the scene about thirty minutes after the accident and testified that there was not sufficient water present when he arrived to have been a factor in the accident. He further stated it was his opinion that if there had been as much water present as some of the witnesses suggested that even with evaporation, there should have been much more water present when he arrived.
The Metro ID Tech arrived at 4:14 PM. He testified that it would have taken ten to twenty minutes to assess the scene, get the basic information, and determine the proper equipment before he would have begun taking any pictures. This means the first pictures of the scene would have been taken sometime between 4:24 PM and 4:34 PM, an hour to an hour and ten minutes after the accident occurred. He took several pictures of the bus before he began taking pictures of the area where the water was located. The ID Tech estimated that he would have taken photos for about ten minutes before he would have begun taking pictures of the water area. This puts the time of the pictures of the water area at 4:34 PM to 4:44 PM which would be between an hour and ten minutes to an hour and twenty minutes after the accident at 3:24 PM to 3:25 PM. (Click here to view the pictures of the area with water remaining over an hour after the accident: Picture 1, Picture 2, Picture 3) These photographs formed the foundation for our experiment. If we could flood the area with water again and wait until the amount remaining was the same as shown in the photos, then we could accurately estimate how long the water had been turned off before the photos were taken, which would tell us whether the water was running or not at the time of the accident.
Our experiment to determine whether the water was running at the time of the accident was straightforward. We would flood the area with approximately the same amount of water as was spewed by the broken main and then measure the amount of time it took to look like the Metro photos taken between an hour and ten minutes to an hour and twenty minutes after the accident. The test was run on July 23, 2010, within two days of the actual day on July 25, and under virtually identical weather conditions. The testimony in the case established that the broken water main discharged approximately 250 gallons per minute. We hired a water truck that held 2000 gallons and emptied in about eight minutes—which equals 250 gallons per minute. We then positioned two video cameras, one facing north and one facing south to record the entire event. The video cameras were turned on before the water discharge began and they ran continuously until the end of the test an hour and thirty minutes later.
We then looked at the video footage and removed still pictures at various intervals—at the time the water was turned off, and thereafter at one minute, two minutes, three minutes, four minutes, five minutes, ten minutes, fifteen minutes, thirty minutes, forty five minutes, one hour and one hour and fifteen minutes. What we found was truly remarkable. Even after five years, the water dried in the exact same pattern as was shown in the Metro photographs. It took one hour and fifteen minutes for the water pattern to match the pattern in the Metro photos. This means that the water was still running one hour and fifteen minutes before the Metro photos were taken. Since the ID Tech had testified that these pictures were taken between 4:34 PM and 4:44 PM, the water had to still be running between 3:19 PM and 3:29 PM, which supported the testimony of the witnesses who said the water was still running at the time of the accident. (Click here to view the slideshow that illustrates the comparisons.)
The water test also answered another question, how could this much water evaporate this quickly? The answer was surprising, it couldn’t. Although the road looked to be level, in actuality, it was markedly sloped. The water test showed that the majority of the water did not evaporate, but rather flowed down the street. In fact, within the first five minutes, most of the flowing water had been eliminated, and the remaining water then evaporated over the next hour or more, which was consistent with what the Metro detective suspected. At the conclusion of the water test, it had been convincingly shown that the water was still running at the time of the accident. But one question still remained. Did our client step into the street to avoid the water or was she forced into the street by the moving water?
The pictures taken by Metro were one of two pieces of evidence that photographically documented the scene of the accident. The other evidence was taken by a camera mounted on the bus. This particular city bus had a camera that took a picture out of the side of the bus at six frames per second. (To see a general picture of the bus, and the view from inside the bus: Picture 1, Picture 2) According to the bus driver, he was driving approximately 35 MPH at the time of the accident. This means that the bus was travelling 51.33 feet every second. The bus camera was taking one picture every one sixth of a second, which means that the bus moved 8.56 feet between each picture. (Tto view the six pictures taken by the bus camera: Picture 1, Picture 2, Picture 3, Picture 4, Picture 5, Picture 6)
In the first picture, you can see a drain grate out the side window. This drain grate can also be seen in the Metro photos at the beginning of the driveway and provided a point of reference for us to measure from. The last photo shows our client just after she had been hit as she was being spun around from the impact. Based upon the speed of the bus, we were able to calculate that the point of impact was 42.78 feet north of the drain grate. As it turned out, this was almost the exact point estimated by Metro, confirming our calculations were based upon accurate information and assumptions. We were then able to go back and determine exactly where the bus was as each of the photographs was taken. A close look at the photographs reveals the shapes of people walking on the street. We were able to place each person at a precise location based upon the photos and our calculations. The next to the last photograph shows our client walking upright less than one sixth of a second before she was hit.
These pictures allowed us to establish where our client was, where the other people on the street were, and where the bus was at a given moment in time. With this, we could then calculate exactly where the bus was in the seconds before the accident. By estimating the walking speed of the pedestrians, we were also able to show their positions relative to the bus as it was approaching them. We used this information to recreate the exact conditions leading up to this tragic accident. The animation shows with tremendous detail and accuracy the way in which our client was forced in front of the bus by the moving water. (Click here to view the accident from the bus perspective.), (Click here to view the accident from the pedestrians’ perspective.), (Click here to view the actual bus photos side by side with the animation.)
Our biggest hurdle to overcome was the testimony of the veteran Metro detective who was adamant that the water was not a factor in this accident. Once we were able to demonstrate to the him how the water flowed down Las Vegas Boulevard, as opposed to evaporating, he voluntarily changed his original opinion that the water was not a causative factor in the accident. He concluded, based upon our test results, that the water was in fact running at the time of the accident. Equally important, the water flow expert retained by HRC reluctantly admitted that the water was most likely running at the time of the accident, directly contradicting the testimony of the HRC employees that the water had been turned off for over thirty minutes before the accident. Faced with this testimony, and the video recreation that demonstrated how the flowing water was responsible for our client’s injuries, HRC settled the case.
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