How to See Your Case Visually

 In Litigation

Every day we become more and more accustomed to receiving important information in short doses punctuated by striking visuals. Almost all of us carry around smartphones that deliver information in quick and often visually beautiful digital soundbites, but the legal world has stubbornly remained mostly analog. There are many reasons for that, many of them good, but it is increasingly important to think about how to present cases with compelling visuals that will capture the eyes and minds of mediators, judges, and juries.

In this post, I’ll go through some ideas on how to analyze your case from a visual standpoint. I’ll also include examples of how visuals can strengthen the best parts of your cases and provide some shelter form the weaker parts.

What to consider when thinking about your case visually

You should consider visuals in any analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of your case. Visuals can be a particularly effective method of demonstrating the strengths of your case and creating a bulwark against the weaknesses.

Some things you can ask yourself:

  • Will people fully understand my client’s narrative without seeing what happened?
  • Would people be more likely to comprehend the injuries (or lack of them) with visuals?
  • Do I need to present large amounts of data in a way that can be easily understood?
  • Can I enhance my narrative by showing how events were sequenced in time?

Your answers to these questions will inform what sort of visuals you might want to use in your case, as well as the sort of evidence you will want to develop in your case.

In order to flesh these out, let’s think about them in the context of a sample case. Let’s use a low-speed car wreck where the plaintiff’s car came to a stop and was rear-ended by a truck. The vehicles did not suffer significant damage and the plaintiff has no broken bones, but complains of significant soft-tissue injuries causing her pain and limiting her mobility.  In addition, she suffered a slip-and-fall a year earlier and had received treatment for those injuries until about a month before the car wreck.

Analysis of key issues in our sample case.

There are several aspects of our sample case that call out for visuals. There’s not likely to be much dispute about who was at fault. However, there will be disagreements about the seriousness of the impact, and whether it caused the claimed injuries. Of the analytical questions discussed earlier, three are particularly relevant:

  • Will people fully understand my client’s narrative without seeing what happened?

The plaintiff has a significant burden in persuading people that even though there was no significant damage to her car, the plaintiff could have been seriously injured. That issue is only magnified by the fact that she had a prior incident that could have contributed to her current problems.

  • Would people be more likely to comprehend the injuries (or lack of them) with visuals?

This is an important issue, especially for the plaintiff. While the plaintiff has suffered significant limitations as a result of the accident, the injuries do not appear on X-rays or a CT scan. The plaintiff should be considering how to use visuals to convince people that her injuries are the result of this accident. It is likely less of an issue for the defendant, but it may be that visuals could be used to demonstrate the unlikelihood that the crash caused any serious problems.

  • Can I enhance my narrative by showing how events were sequenced in time?

One of the things that stands out is the plaintiff’s past treatments related to a slip and fall a year before her auto accident. The defense will obviously focus on that prior accident as the true source of her injury and will want to emphasize to the extent possible that her current treatments are related to the prior accident. The plaintiff will have to acknowledge her prior treatment but also demonstrate that the treatment had tapered or ceased prior to the car wreck.

Visuals that will help address the case’s key issues

  • The nature of the accident

In this case, the defendant should consider using visuals that emphasize the low-impact nature of the crash. The plaintiff should consider using visuals to demonstrate the exact opposite: that low-impact crashes can cause large transfers of energy and significant injures.

The most effective visual for either side is likely an animation depicting the accident. For the defendant, the most effective is probably an external view of the crash that demonstrates the lack of damage to the vehicles and the minimal movement of the plaintiff’s car. The plaintiff would likely want a more involved animation of the accident that demonstrates the difference in size between the truck and the car, the impact of the car and the truck, and the way the plaintiffs’ body was tossed about. You can find some examples of this sort of animation here.

These animations can usually be done for prices that are cheaper than you might think. But if the case value does not warrant an animation, you and your expert could also bring the point home with other visuals. Those could include rough stills depicting the impact, and/or diagrams explaining the transfer of energy that occurs in a low-speed crash.

  • The nature of the injuries

There are several to use visuals in our test case to address the seriousness, or lack of seriousness, of the injuries in question. Some ideas are outlined below.

Animation of the accident

As discussed above, an animation of the accident itself can go a long way towards demonstrating either side of the injury equation.

Use of original or enhanced medical imagery

The defendant in this case should plan to use all medical images taken of the plaintiff to demonstrate a lack of serious injury. X-rays, CT scans, or MRIs showing the lack of broken bones or tendon ruptures should be a key feature of the defense. These can be presented in their original 2D grey-scale format, or be translated at low cost into full-color 3D images that are more easily understood by a lay audience. You can find some samples of these sorts of images here.

Still images or diagrams of the injury

For the plaintiff, it may be that the soft-tissue injuries our plaintiff suffered can be explained by an expert with the assistance of a drawing or diagram that depicts how the injury happened and/or why it is causing her significant pain and disabilities. We also have samples of these types of exhibits.

Animation of the injury

Depending on the type of injury, it may also make sense for a plaintiff to animate the injury itself, in isolation from the accident. In cases of whiplash, for example, we are often retained to demonstrate via animation how a simple, single whip of the neck can cause muscle damage, herniated disks, and similar injuries.  These sorts of animations require coordination with an expert, but they can be a particularly effective way for that expert to explain their opinion.

This is tricky for a defendant, unless the defendant is confident that it can accurately demonstrate how a specific movement would not cause serious injury.

Day-in-the-life footage

This is almost always a plaintiff-specific visual. A day-in-the-life video can help mediators, judges, and jurors understand a plaintiff’s injuries. These videos often show how a person’s injuries have affected their daily lives.

In the right case, these can be especially powerful for the plaintiff. The key is to be sure it is the right case. If a plaintiff does not have limitations easily depicted in a video, this sort of video should only be used by a defendant.  Similarly, if a plaintiff must excessively stage or exaggerate the injuries to make the video work, the plaintiff should not use it, at risk of harming credibility.

  • Treatment timeline

In this case, it would benefit both sides to have a treatment timeline to address the prior accident and ensuing treatment.  For the defendant, the goal of the timeline would be to emphasize the similarity of the pre- and post-accident treatment, and the closeness in time, to make it appear more likely that her current problems resulted from the first accident and not the second.

The goal for the plaintiff would be to take the same facts to show both (1) that her pre-accident injuries had largely healed, and (2) that her injuries from the accident were so severe that she had extensive medical treatment done not only right after the accident but in the many following months. You can find some examples of timelines here.

 

 

 

 

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