How Can 3D Animation Help with Litigation Cases in the Environmental Sector?

Denis Cutter

Associate and BIM/CADD Manager

3D Animation isn’t just for the big screen or computer games anymore. Indeed, it’s used in more places than you might expect. One scenario that might come as a surprise is its use in litigation cases. In the environmental and construction sector, problems can, and unfortunately do, arise. The consequences can be anywhere from minor to colossal, including equipment failures, gas explosions, massive financial losses, and even fatalities.

It’s common practice in litigation cases for experts to be brought in to give testimony and support legal teams. But given experts’ expertise in a field full of very specific jargon and complicated processes, it can be difficult for laypeople, lawyers, arbitrators, and especially juries to understand some of the technical detail involved. This is where 3D animation can become an effective tool by enhancing expert testimony and helping experts present complex concepts in comprehensible and engaging ways.

How can 3D animation help?

We’ve all seen television lawyers presenting flip charts or slides to explain a case, then awkwardly trying to flip back to a previous slide to correct a point. Things have changed, and now 3D technology makes presentations more precise, concise, and realistic.

Lawyers use 3D animations in video format much like we see in movies to vividly describe events or illustrate conditions. These videos can range from simple boxy shapes depicting localized physical relationships of objects and people to photorealistic movies showing complex events and even emotions. They unfold detailed stories that become captivating and compelling.

Today a legal team can use 3D modeling to guide a jury around a site using open-world environments and objects rendered in real time.

Using factual evidence gathered during the investigation, a 3D open world environment can be created that is similar to a video game. A jury can then watch as the lawyer interacts with the scene in context with the events and situations of the case. For instance, they may “walk” across a scene looking left and right to reveal what an equipment operator would have seen that day on the job site, while picking up specific tools or equipment. In this environment, they are free to step into and operate a piece of equipment like an excavator or dump truck. From this vantage point a lawyer can demonstrate an accident scenario such as how restricted the operator’s field of view was and the fact that the ground spotters were out of position to be seen by the operator, which could be directly attributed to a powerline strike or other catastrophic outcome.

It’s easy to see how this type of scenario is more immersive and easier to present to a jury in animated video than in simple static illustrations.

3D animation can also be used to help explore witness testimonies. For example, though a witness might think they understand what they’ve seen, a 3D animation that brings their memory to life may, in fact, make them realize that’s not exactly what happened. Therefore, it can help to better define the testimony of what a witness actually saw.

In other scenarios, complex technical information from the experts can be presented using 3D animation in order to help explain subsurface geographical features, how chemical reactions occur underground, or what went wrong with the pour of a concrete foundation, for example.

Professional Visuals to Support Expert Testimony

Some typical applications and use cases.

There are many different scenarios in the environmental sector that might warrant the use of animation for litigation cases. Let’s examine some hypothetical cases:

Containment of hazardous materials

A third party was required to come onto a construction site to help contain hazardous materials. They did a poor job of assembling the hazmat containment liner and it failed, leaching contaminants into the ground. It’s possible to animate unseen features underground, such as foundations, liner structures, and failure points showing where and why the ground has become contaminated as a result.

Construction failure

A sub-contractor has expedited some work and failed to follow the proper procedures of their permit. They excavated deeper than they should without pumping to lower the water table and shoring the excavation walls. This can be animated to show the subsurface geography and the negative impacts of digging too deep. Alternately, if the contractor struck an underground utility line which led to a gas explosion, that too can be animated to demonstrate what went wrong or how the action caused the type of destruction witnessed at the scene.

Earth engineering

3D animation can also be used to prevent problems before they arise and lead to litigation. For example, it’s possible to animate the potential negative impact a construction site might have on adjacent properties, how it might alter the water supply, or how contaminants might affect the soil. In this instance, animation can be used in the permitting and site-approvals process. So, where a client may have concerns, it’s possible to present the scenarios to the permitting agency to make a strong argument as to whether a construction permit should be granted at all.

Professional Visuals to Support Expert Testimony

Professional Visuals to Support Expert Testimony

What does the process look like?

A typical process to create an animation for a case study looks like this:

Some typical outcomes

At Golder, we employ some of the top environmental consultants in the world.

Golder is regularly called in to offer expert testimony. With a digital strategy team in house, Golder has been able to combine our expertise with visual representations and animations to help clients throughout the world.

Each scenario is unique, so it’s important to take a case-by-case approach. A common outcome we’ve seen as a result of 3D animation work is that the two opposing legal teams simply come to an agreement outside of court thanks to the effectiveness of evidence presented.

In several other instances, a case may have gone to a jury trial has been stopped at arbitration. We’ve even seen pre-litigation, where a concerned client has been able to present information to a permitting agency before controversial construction took place, thus entirely averting potential failures and accidents. And of course, animations have been used to help explain complex details to juries in the courtroom, with successful outcomes for clients.

What does the future hold?

3D animation has already seen significant evolution, even for niche scenarios in the environmental sector. Open-world and real-time rendering is becoming more common, giving the feel of a computer game, with image quality comparable to that of a Hollywood blockbuster.

We expect this technology to continue to evolve, offering users an immersive feeling of walking through a site, and the ability to see the environment in real time. With the continuing evolution of Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), and Mixed Reality (MR), animators and legal teams will be able to bring more situations to life and collaborate more freely with accurate data.

There’s no doubt that legal teams will become more educated in the options for presenting their opinions as time goes on. This technology can present technical, factual data in a much more immersive and compelling package to aid their clients’ cases.

 

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Denis Cutter

Associate and BIM/CADD Manager

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