Great Demonstrative Evidence Gets Great Results / by Jeff Drake

The Accident
A construction worker broke his neck after falling into the un-barricaded stairwell of an apartment building undergoing construction. The site consisted of a three story, wood frame apartment building. The accident took place on the day the framing crew was preparing the third floor wall frame to receive roof trusses. The general contractor did not supply the crew with ladders on this site. The stairs had not yet been constructed in the stairwells and the stairwells were not barricaded at each level. The plaintiff drove the Lull telescoping forklift to move and deliver materials on the site. When asked to retrieve a large box of nails from the third floor deck, he drove the Lull over to one of the stairwells, extended the forks (with a sheet of plywood set on them) up to the third deck level over the open stairwell and climbed the boom to get to the third floor deck. He retrieved the box of nails and on his way back toward the stairwell tripped and fell into the unprotected opening, breaking his neck when he landed on the first level.

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The evidence included: testimony of witnesses that there were no ladders on the site, no stairs in the stairwell and no railings around the stairwell openings; photos taken by an insurance adjuster two days after the accident showing the roof in place and railings around all stairwells; a set of floor plans for the building; and time sheets filled out by carpenters on the day of the accident that read, “Railings, railings, railings”

Design Strategy
The design of the trial exhibits followed a logical progression based on questions about the case. The plaintiff’s testimony described placing the forks of the Lull into the building butting up to the floor frame around the stairwell. He estimated the closest he could get the Lull to the building was sixteen feet because of a debris pile at the edge of the building. Could he get the ends of the forks to the floor frame or was there a gap as the defense proposed? Building measurements were recorded. An exemplar Lull was located and its dimensions were also recorded.  2D drawings were created to scale, including a cross section through the stairwell and the Lull positioned sixteen feet away. This drawing established the fact that the boom reached the floor frame in the stairwell. A plan view was created to locate the studs in the walls around the stairwell and show the depth of the stairwell front to back. The drawings were very helpful in understanding the dimensions and placement of the Lull in relation to the building, but still required that the viewer be able to interpret what they represented in three dimensions. A rough study scale model was created using prints of the drawings mounted on foam core board including a pivoting, forklift boom to show how a 3D scale model would function. The mock-up convinced the plaintiff’s attorney that a finished scale model was just what he needed to explain this case to the jury.

Accuracy and Professional Execution
Every effort was made to produce a scale model that would be as accurate as possible in representing the accident site. All dimensions recorded from the building and the Lull were used to detail scale drawings, which were then used as blueprints for the models. Jeff Drake testified to the accuracy of the exhibits as the first witness for the plaintiff. The defense objected strongly to introducing the model into evidence, but was unable to prove there was anything inaccurate about it.

The scale model of the building section was created from lumber scaled at one inch equaling one foot. The windows were created from clear acrylic plastic with the frames painted on. The base included part of the first level and grade outside the foundation wall and was made in two sections to allow for packing and shipping in two crates. The Lull was made primarily from acrylic plastic with wooden wheels and metal parts for the hydraulic cylinders. The boom telescoped, pivoted, as did the set of forks at the boom end. This allowed the forks and boom to be positioned in the accident configuration. One of the design parameters for the scale model was that it should have the same visual qualities - color and finish - shown in the insurance photos so the jury could easily relate the two types of evidence.

Great Results
The jury awarded the plaintiff $12 million.