3D scanning can be used successfully to settle legal disputes when physical evidence is key. The ultra accurate data provides definitive answers about how and why an accident happened to determine root cause and which party, if any, can be held liable for part failure.
Litigating in the aftermath of accidents is big business in the U.S. today. The costs of the lawsuit system are estimated to be several billion dollars a year. With such large sums of money riding on the outcomes of lawsuits every year, tools are needed to insure that the cases are decided correctly and fairly and that frivolous suits do not waste the resources of the judicial system.
To accurately record and investigate every detail of an accident scene, laser scanning may be the biggest breakthrough since digital photography. Unlike two-dimensional photographs, however, non-contact laser scanning records the scene in three dimensions, capturing every detail, measurement, and placement without disturbing any evidence. Happily, it is gaining popularity with investigators and was even used to recreate a crime scene on a popular television drama recently.
Usually the plaintiff, the party who claims damages from a defendant, must prove the claims to be true. Therefore discovering and presenting all the pertinent evidence can be a big boon to any case. Evidence can come in many forms, including dimensional information. To capture the precise 3D dimensions of items involved in a case, Laser Design, a leading supplier of 3D laser scanning services for over 25 years has been called in many times as a neutral third party. Laser Design scans the accident scenes for the purposes of documenting the as-is condition, so investigators have as much information as possible to reconstruct the incident and prove which cases have merit.
Damaged Bridge Inspection
Laser Design was brought in to scan a bridge underpass after a tanker explosion had caused significant structural damage. The tanker truck jackknifed and fell under the bridge. The explosion and resulting fire was so hot that investigators were literally dealing with “fried concrete.” The insurance company involved needed documentation of the damage and to determine if the trucking company was liable. The DOT engineers needed to determine whether the structure was salvageable and safe or whether it needed to be completely replaced.
The long-range scan was used to check for structural damage externally and find out whether the dimensional information indicated that the internal steel reinforcement bars had melted. This type of damage would manifest in the bridge’s structure sagging.
The 3D scan by Laser Design helped to determine that the bridge was indeed damaged beyond repair and would have to be demolished and rebuilt from the ground up. This kind of massive inspection project would have taken weeks or even months to complete manually. The long-range laser scanned the structure in just a few hours, and the 3D model was available soon thereafter for the investigators to work from in determining liability.
Crash Test Comparisons
Automakers and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) conduct crash tests on vehicle models to make sure they perform like they were designed to in a collision. Laser Design was hired to laser scan a vehicle before and after a crash test. The two sets of data were overlaid and compared to see if the crushed areas conformed to design expectations. Ideally, most of the crumple would occur in the engine and trunk areas, not near the passengers. This proved true in the crash test scenario.
Unfortunately, sometimes anomalies and variations occur in vehicles as was the case in a fatal accident involving the same model. Again, Laser Design scanned the car in which the fatality occurred. The undamaged car provided baseline geometry and the crash-tested pattern of crush in a head-on collision. These data sets were overlaid on the scan from the accident vehicle to compare the complete geometry and isolate the areas of interest.
The scan data showed that the vehicle involved in the accident displayed a crush pattern different from the expected one, allowing the body to crumple excessively in the passenger areas. This particular vehicle proved not to be crash-worthy and a wrongful death suit was filed.
Aviation Accident Investigation
A large aircraft crashed while taking off. Investigators theorized that a piece of metal on the runway burst a tire, leading to a cascade of damage and a fire that eventually brought the craft down. The pieces of the plane were sequestered in a secure warehouse where Laser Design scanning engineers digitized the burnt mangled debris. With the accurate 3D data of the suspected piece of debris, experts were able to piece together the accident’s likely chain of events and determine the ultimate cause. After several years of investigation, charges were brought against several airline officials involved. The case is still pending.
Occasionally an organization from the U.S. military contacts Laser Design to scan an object for material analysis. In this case, the organization wanted to scan several fragments from an exploded shell casing. The shell had been exploded in a chamber and 6 fragments were collected for closer inspection. They were to be analyzed to see how the metal material performed against extreme forces to make them safer for troops.
A shell casing starts out as a cylinder, a very simple shape to measure and recreate by traditional measurement methods. However, when the shell explodes, the metal is distorted and deformed into irregular, twisted shards. For this type of geometry, nothing can match the capability and accuracy of non-contact 3D laser scanning.
Laser Design scanned all the metal pieces in under 4 hours. The scan data of the jagged parts were exported into Geomagic for modeling into NURBS surfaces (3D IGES surfaces). The models were input into an FEA computer modeling analysis package to determine material characteristics and predict behaviors.
Wrongful Death Suits
The company involved in a wrongful death suit makes kits for building hobby aircraft. One customer built the craft, but on the first flight the engine failed. Tragically, the plane crashed and the customer died. Survivors filed a wrongful death suit against the kit-maker.
Laser Design scanned the airplane engine to determine its measurements and whether it met size and quality standards. The crash had distorted some of the engine parts, so the scan would also reveal those flaws when compared to the original 3D data. Several parts were scanned and then assembled into the engine unit virtually, establishing whether the fit of the parts was correct. Some irregularities were found, supporting the plaintiff’s case.
Another wrongful death suit was filed against an automotive company because one of their car’s experienced seat-belt failure. During a crash, the seat-belt wrapped around a sharp edge in the car’s seat frame structure which sliced through the belt. Laser Design scanned the sharp object’s edge along with other objects with varying degrees of sharpness to compare sharpness and see whether the edge that cut through the seat-belt was inappropriate for its application. The scan showed that the edge was indeed too sharp for how it was being used, and the wrongful death suit proceeded.
Usefulness of 3D Laser Scanning in Litigation
Laser scanning can be used successfully to settle legal disputes when physical evidence is key. The ultra accurate data provides definitive answers about how and why an accident happened to determine root cause and which party, if any, can be held liable for part failure.