Use of Reenactment Demonstrative Exhibits

Personal Injury Lawyer

Exhibits which purport to recreate, reenact, or otherwise represent relevant conditions, can be an incredibly effective means to present information to the jury.  For example, a computer-generated reenactment of a motor vehicle accident can add an important visual element to your case, especially when compared to often dry, sometimes incomprehensible lay testimony about accident conditions.  However, how can a Plaintiff’s lawyer get this type of exhibit into evidence at trial?

Generally, when assessing admissibility of such reenactment evidence, courts apply a fairly stringent “substantial similarity” test.  “Where the conditions are substantially similar in essential particulars, the evidence is admissible, and its weight is to be determined by the jury.” Mackall v. Commonwealth, 236 Va. 240, 253-254 (Va. 1988) (Medical examiner’s insertion of a knitting needle into a styrofoam model of a human head to illustrate the course of the bullet was permissible).   The test is similar in federal court: “a videotaped demonstration that amounts to an re-enactment of the accident must be substantially similar to the conditions at the time of the accident.” Gladhill v. General Motors Corp., 743 F.2d 1049, 1051 (4th Cir. 1984). The “substantial similarity” requirement can be extended to computer-animated video as well. Hinkle v. City of Clarksburg, 81 F.3d 416, 425 (4th Cir. 1996).

Demonstrative that relies on computer animation is sometimes subject to an even more stringent test.  For example, a computer-generated staged photograph purporting to depict the circumstances existing at the time of an accident was deemed to be “in the nature of a test or experiment […] the party who offers such evidence must show that the reconstruction or recreation is substantially similar, although not necessarily identical, to the actual event in all of its essential particulars.” See Brown v. Corbin, 244 Va. 528, 531 (1992). 

Testimony that the photograph was “somewhat similar” was insufficient when neither the defendant nor his expert enumerated the differences or similarities between the photograph and the actual scene. Id.  In federal court, computer animations that purport to recreate events at issue in trial should be held to the “substantially similar” test previously applied to staged videotape. Hinkle v. City of Clarksburg, 81 F.3d 416, 425 (4th Cir. 1996). “In contrast to videotaped recreations, demonstrations of experiments used merely to illustrate principles forming an expert’s opinion are not subject to the substantial similarity requirement.” Green v. Ford Motor Co., 2001 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 20680, *4 (W.D. Va. Dec. 10, 2001). However, it is rare to encounter video evidence that is either wholly demonstrative or reconstructive. Id. at *5. Thus, counsel should be prepared to argue and have the expert explain the similarities between the animation and the facts of the case. If you have questions about a personal injury case, contact a Personal Injury Lawyer in Arlington, VA, like the Law Offices of Ryan Quinn, PLLC, to get more information.