What depositions are to the lawyer, photographs are to the technical expert. Well actually sometimes they’re more like a Supreme Court ruling. There it is in living color, case closed. I once estimated that a single 35-millimeter negative records 16 megabytes of data. I found out, I was wrong; it's 20 to 50 megabytes. A TV screen, by comparison, is about 1/4 megabyte (It looks better than that because it is constantly changing), a typewritten page, about 1/500 of a megabyte. Twenty megabytes is the equivalent of 250,000 words, a gargantuan novel. If you think I exaggerate, find a good clear photo and try to describe everything you see in it to someone else, everything. Describe every shade of every color, the location and direction of every hair, every wrinkle. One picture is not worth a thousand words, it’s more like several million. That's why it's so hard to get much video out of your computer, or a good reproduction of a photo by xerography or even color laser print. That's how they can put an entire book on one little microfiche.
For most purposes a quarter of a megabyte per page is excellent. Experts however need minute details. A discoloration in a copy of a photo may look unimportant, but an original print may reveal it to be a centrifugal skid mark leading directly to the plaintiff’s car, or not a skid mark at all. Clear photos have helped us innumerable times to locate evidence that solved cases. "Skid marks" in a "copy" of a photo turned out to be the shadow of a power line, on an original reprint. Photos of a motorcycle accident showed that the motorcycle slid fifty feet after impact, a fact omitted on the police report. That extra fifty feet showed the rider's speed to well over the speed limit. Case closed.
In another case our client was accused of not painting the word STOP on a street at an intersection on the day they had contracted to. On that very night a car ran the stop and crashed. Everyone said the "STOP" was not painted. The records appeared to confirm that. We asked again and again for the Police photographs taken at the time of the accident, but kept receiving the wrong photos. When we got the photos taken by the police of the cars at their immediate points of rest, the word "STOP" could be seen on the road surface right where it was supposed to be. Case closed.
Some of my colleagues suspect that some lawyers do not like photographs, because photos speak for themselves, and unlike words can seldom be rearranged to conceal or confuse. Some seem to make a habit of mishandling them as much as possible, so that by the time of trial only third generation copies are available. After two or three times through the laser copier all photos begin to look alike. This, by the way, is how photos of MIA's, Nessie, UFO's, Elvis and other paranormal phenomena get published. One attorney sent me "Fifteen photos of his client’s car and accident scene” Actually there were 5 photos. The best copies I got were at least third generation, they looked like Monets. Then there were fourth, fifth, and sixth generation copies of some of the original five. The copies were so bad I can understand why he could not tell, or would not admit, they were same picture.
This article written by Kenneth Obenski, P.E.was originally published in The San Diego Daily Transcript on April 12, 2006 as part of the Forensic Consultants Association Newsletter. Ken Obenski is a Mechanical Engineer who specializes in accident reconstruction for John Fiske Brown, Assoc., www.fiskebrown.com.
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