Twenty-five years ago, the still-limited science of virtual reality was put to use to prove that a motorcyclist who was injured in an accident had chosen to ride on risky terrain and Honda Motor Co. was not responsible. Since then, there has been some limitations to introducing it more frequently. Some say, however, now is the time to allow it more regularly in the courtroom.
“There are incredible possibilities for using this technology in the courtroom,” defense attorney Noel Edlin, managing partner of Bassi, Edlin, Huie & Blum in San Francisco, said. Virtual reality could be used to “transport members of a jury to a Superfund site, inside a mesothelioma patient’s lungs, to the intersection where an accident occurred, or to a grisly crime scene.”
“The sense of ‘presence’ that VR provides has the potential to be a game changer in the practice of law,” attorneys Marc Lamber and James Goodnow of Lamber Goodnow in Phoenix, Arizona, explained in a joint statement. The two are currently experimenting with the technology in personal injury cases.
However, not everyone agrees that VR is the best option in the courtroom, or even that it’s ready to be used more frequently. Law is not a “forward-looking enterprise but an arena based on precedence,” Brice Karsh, CEO of High Impact in Centennial, Colorado, stated. The company specializes in custom illustrations, animations, and 3D interactive presentations. “In some places, it is still hard to use the color red in an illustration out of concern that the court will find it to be overly inflammatory,“ he said. “The use of VR may be adopted in one place quickly and still take years [for adoption] in another.”
VR creates a personalized experience that does not exist in other mediums. “It feels like events are happening directly to the user, instead of the user being a passive onlooker. Additionally, VR is more self-directed and subjective than the more linear and constrained forms of video and graphical evidence,” Frederic I. Lederer, law professor and director of the Center for Legal and Court Technology at William & Mary Law School in Williamsburg, Virginia, said. Jurors become “virtual eye-witnesses of the accident,” he added.
The interaction not only “elevates the sense of realism” but the result is a “better understanding of what actually happened,” Lamber and Goodnow said. In addition, “The risks of VR as a memory aid are really no greater than photos, videos or any other type of dramatic evidence that a witness may see,” they added.
If VR can be used to recreate an accident or a crime scene, “I don’t see why it shouldn’t be used to help present evidence in a way that can clarify what a witness experienced,” Edlin added.
Lambert and Goodnow said the VR presentations used by their firm are made with the help of expert witnesses base it on the physical evidence of a case. The same experts also work with accident reconstructionists and biomechanical engineers to explain what happened at a given incident scene. VR experts need to be prepared to testify in court regarding the accuracy of the virtual reality model.
For now, the technology remains experimental. However, in the coming years, it may become more commonplace. “I believe that in 10 years, most trial lawyers will be using VR just like they’re using laptops today. VR will be the norm, not the exception,” plaintiffs’ attorney Mitch Jackson, senior partner at Jackson & Wilson in Laguna Hills, Calif., stated.