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Morgan Smith

Medical Illustrations for Attorneys: How to Make Anatomy Accurate and Understandable to Make Your Case

The other day, a Northern California trial attorney contacted me in need of a medical illustration. He represented the plaintiff in an auto crash case and had to go to trial in about a week. The attorney rightly realized that picturing his client’s spine would be an essential part of presenting his case.

When preparing a case that would benefit from medical illustrations, look to hire someone who can visualize and create images that are intelligible to a lay audience, featuring details that look clinical rather than gory. Also make sure the artist has the scientific and educational credentials necessary to provide a foundation for admissibility of the illustrations.

A medical illustration doesn’t have to be fancy—but it does have to be accurate, objective and easy to understand. Medical images from a doctor’s office—such as X-rays, CAT scans and MRIs—often don’t work well on their own because they are confusing to view and interpret. Photographs of injuries also can be difficult to understand and may not be admissible if they’re grisly enough to be considered prejudicial.

Top medical illustrators possess a special combination of artist and scientist; that is, they’re skilled in design, illustration and computer graphic programs, and they also have advanced study in the life sciences and specialized training in anatomy, pathology, cellular biology and the like. They’re the kind of person who likes to observe autopsies with a sketch pad in hand.

Cogent Legal’s medical illustrator, Carin Cain, is that kind of person. In the case mentioned above, my client needed something to show the plaintiff’s pre-existing lumbar fusion—a piece of hardware in the back bolting together two vertebrae—in relation to a nerve in question. And he needed it quickly. It took Carin a few hours to create the following image:

In more complex cases, and when time allows, consider creating an animation to show what happened to a body in an injury. For example, Carin worked with Cogent Legal’s animator to demonstrate the different layers of a man’s forearms that suffered injury when hammered by a pile driver. Click here to view a short excerpt from that animation.

If it makes sense to use an actual X-ray, MRI or other medical image rather than creating an illustration, then consider using the medical illustrator’s expertise to highlight and label key parts of those images.

It pays to think of a medical illustration as an investment in a case that can clinch a higher settlement or win a verdict. The attorney described above, by the way, won a $1.4 million verdict for his client.

(Thumbnail image of dorsal hand fracture above by Carin Cain.)

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