A PHYSICAL MODEL VS AN ANIMATED VIDEO AS A COURT EXHIBIT

I had a case that involved an explosion and fire in a recording studio. A critical part of the case revolved around where the explosion had started and how the explosion and fire has spread through the building. Although the outside of the building was a very simple concrete block structure, the inside walls and partitions were very complex from being divided up into several acoustically separate studios and other spaces. I was an expert witness for the owner of the building. He was suing his insurance company as they had denied his fire insurance claim. (More about that in another blog).

Our team needed a way to enable ourselves and the court to understand just how the building was configured and what this meant in terms of the explosion. My initial discussion with the attorney as his architectural expert witness was how best to do this. We had two options; a computer generated 3-D model or a physical model made out of inexpensive foam board. We went with the old fashioned foam board model. This was exactly the right decision to make. For starters the cost was about a quarter of the cost of an electronic 3-D model. But far more important was the usefulness and functionality of the physical model. The electronic model required a computer and skill to view and to manipulate it on screen. A video model would also contain the inherent distrust that people have towards computer generated models. We all know that these can be biased or faked. Hollywood does it every day. A physical model is inherently more trustworthy and can be viewed directly without any technology. It is also understood by everyone.

We made the model by collecting construction drawings from the original construction, from aerial photos, from descriptions provided by the owner and from physical measurements of the ruined building. The drawings were incomplete, the aerial photos were of poor quality, the owner’s memory was not perfect and much of the building was in ruins. Still we got a very accurate model that was never challenged by the defendant attorneys.

The model was submitted as an exhibit and remained on the table, in the courtroom throughout the trial. It could not be ignored. It was repeatedly referred to by both the plaintiff’s attorneys and the defendant’s attorneys. Points were made by lifting off the “roof” and looking inside to see exactly how things were configured. While the real physical building could not be brought into the courtroom, the model on the table substituted perfectly for the real building. At one point the defense introduced a superb computer generated model to support their theory of how the explosion had occurred. Their expert had spent hundreds of hours generating this. Our attorney pointed out several features on the model that the computer model was missing. These features demonstrated that their computer model was invalid. As a result, the court rejected their explosion model.

My point is how important it is to pick the right tools for the task at hand. The tools do not need to be the most exciting high tech tool. In this case we needed a tool that would clearly show how the building was configured. It also had to be simple to use in the courtroom. It had to be something that could not be disputed. We chose a simple low tech solution that was very successful. As a result, we won a sizable settlement for our client in this case.

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