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FMG Law Blog Line

Seeing is Believing: Effective use of Animations in and out of the Courtroom

Posted on: July 20th, 2020

By: Paul Bigley

In California, we are blessed with a California Supreme Court case by the name of People vs. Duenas (2012) 55 Cal. 4th 1. The Duenas court addressed the use of animations in trial. The court drew a distinction between simulations and animations, equating animations to traditional demonstrative evidence such as charts or diagrams. Animations are not held to the traditional scientific Daubert challenges as to admissibility. 

The following are actual quotes from the Duenas opinion: “ Animation is merely used to illustrate an expert‘s testimony while simulations contain scientific or physical principles requiring validation…. Animations do not draw conclusions; they attempt to re-create a scene or process, thus they are treated like demonstrative aids… In other words, a computer animation is demonstrative evidence offered to help a jury understand expert testimony or other substantive evidence.“

The formula for considering whether or not an animation should be prepared in a case is simple: Potential Large Exposure + Liability defenses = Need To Consider Animation. 

If the decision is made to use an animation, it should be prepared early, for use at mediation and trial, if necessary, to maximize benefit. Studies show that people retain far more information from seeing something as opposed to hearing or being told about something. The impact of an animation is enormous and once seen and appreciated by opposing counsel, it often has the effect of greatly deflating their expectations and driving a very favorable settlement. After all, opposing counsel now knows that they need to make an investment in one of their own at great cost and expense while facing the very real prospect of obtaining nothing from a jury if the jury accepts, as credible, what they see in the animation.

Admitting an animation into evidence is easy. I ask just a few questions of an appropriate expert, usually an accident reconstructionist or a human factors expert: Have you reviewed the animation we prepared? Does the animation generally support your opinions? As you might imagine, the answers to those questions are always yes. 

Because simulations, which are intended to exactly replicate a scene or event, are often challenged and never end up seeing the light of a court room, animations are my preferred choice. At FMG, we actually prepare these animations in-house with the assistance of our litigation support manager who has a degree in game design and animation. While not inexpensive, we prepare them at a fraction of the cost from outside vendors. 

If you are not making use of this tool, you are missing out on a cutting edge opportunity. That said, we know that states other than California may treat animations differently. You should explore whether your state follows California’s Duenas court decision.

If you have questions or would like more information, please contact Paul Bigley at [email protected].

You can view examples of FMG’s animation capabilities below:

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