3-Car Pileups: the only possible outcome of making astrophysicists celebrities

3-Car Pileups: the only possible outcome of making astrophysicists celebrities

A recent report from the Seattle Times pointed out that motor vehicle accidents across the US are on an upward trend, while decreasing here in the state of Washington.

That said, King County still has more accidents per year than anywhere else in the state. So it’s kind of a mixed bag for us here in Renton.

Strange as it may sound, many people are just as scared of the legal proceedings that accompany car crashes as they are of the accident themselves. What will happen if you’re asked to make a courtroom appearance?

Is some Tom-Cruise lookalike going to scream, “I want the truth!” when you testify?

Will an Al-Pacino wannabe go off the rails, screaming that the judge is out of order?

Probably not, but who knows?

What we do know is that the transcript leaked from a civil suit against Neil Degrasse Tyson for a three-car highway accident is a hilarious example of just how ridiculous legal questioning can be.

All the knowledge in the UNIVRSE couldn’t stop this accident

In April of 2012, celebrity scientist Neil Degrasse Tyson was returning home from a trip to see the space shuttle Enterprise at the JFK International Airport. His 2007 Audi -- complete with “UNIVRSE” vanity plates -- drifted into the left lane, striking a Dodge Intrepid before rear-ending the Mercedes in front of him.

It sure seemed like a cut-and-dried case, but here we are, with a 16-page deposition full of passive-aggressive banter and a petition to take this $5 million lawsuit to the NY Supreme Court.

In our first example from the deliciously childish exchange, the attorney representing the party suing Mr. UNIVRSE attempted to determine the speed and direction of his car:

Mr. Lawyer: At the time your vehicle made contact with the Mercedes, was the Mercedes stopped or moving?

Mr. Spaceman: It was -- if it was not stopped, it was moving very slowly and the physics requires that it was moving slower than I was.

Mr. Lawyer: Physics is obviously involved in the movement of cars. It is not astrophysics, correct, it is just regular physics?

Mr. Spaceman: Right, Physics 101.

So you’ve patronized the defendant and confirmed that celestial movements have no bearing on this fender bender, glad we sorted that out. What’s up next lawman?

Mr. Lawyer: When did you first realize your vehicle was drifting from the lane just to the right of the left lane towards the direction of the left lane?

Mr. Spaceman: Cars with windows closed are acoustically well insulated, so the beginning scratch along the Intrepid wasn’t sufficient to sort of snap me out. What brought me back to attention was when my...side-view mirror got hit.

Before we continue, this seems like a good place to stop and ask:

A) What kind of armor-plated Audi are you driving that insulates you from colliding with a 3,500-lb American-made motor vehicle?

And if you weren’t driving the Valyrian steel upgrade...

B) What event led to a trance so deep you didn’t notice a UNIVRSE-sized collision?

But hey, it’s not like we’re experts in this field, let’s not crowd Mr. Lawyer’s style…

Mr. Lawyer: At that moment when you began to apply your brakes, can you estimate your rate of speed at that moment?

Mr. Spaceman: I gave you that speed earlier.

Mr. Lawyer: I wanted to know if it had decreased in any way as a result of hitting the Dodge or anything like that, was it the same speed, or something else?

Mr. Spaceman: Somewhere between three and eight miles an hour.



This $5-million lawsuit was over a collision at roughly the same speed as an elderly couple canoeing across a pond in their backyard?

Or better yet, this collision was at the walking speed of a turtle in that same hypothetical backyard?

Yes. And that’s not the most ridiculous part

Like most personal injury suits pertaining to motor vehicle accidents, the really crazy stuff comes from the injury descriptions.

Krzytsztof Bugajski -- aside from what happens when you fall asleep on the keyboard -- was the Mercedes driver involved in Mr. Tyson’s accident. He also happened to be the personal assistant of a high-level Coach executive, which means his lawyers were impeccably dressed and ludicrously expensive.

With their legal wizardry, they claimed that Tyson’s “excessive, illegal and dangerous rate of speed” had the following impacts on Mr. Bugajski’s health:

  • He was, “rendered sick, sore lame and disabled…”
  • He experienced “severe nervous shock...”
  • He underwent “extensive electrical stimulation therapy…”

And those are just the juicy bits. The list of medical mumbo jumbo goes on for seven pages in total.

The leaked deposition was the last we heard of Mr. Spaceman’s case, so it was probably dropped or settled out of court.

Aside from a behind-the-scenes look at a real world civil case, Mr. Tyson’s not-so-big-bang illustrates just how essential a team of capable attorneys are. Without them, either Bugajski never could’ve gotten his absurd claim as far as he did, or Tyson would have probably been forced to sell his moon rock collection to pay for damages.

The next time you love-tap the car behind you while parallel parking, give us a call! It could save you millions.