The strategy behind risk management is to identify, assess and prioritize risks in order to control the impact of adverse events. When these adversities occur in the public safety realm—events such as crimes, accidents, natural disasters, terrorism and legal liabilities—risk mitigation often falls into the purview of the prosecuting attorney who must decide whether to settle, plea bargain or proceed to trial. In many cases, laser scan data can provide the information the prosecuting attorney needs to identify the path of least risk. No matter what course of action is taken, the high-definition 3D laser scanner is a valuable and cost-effective instrument in the risk-management toolbox.
The Laser Scanner’s Risk Assessment Role in Civil Litigation
In a civil case, fault must be assessed to determine the best course of action. For example, if a city-owned bus hits and injures a pedestrian, and the accident results in litigation, it will be up to the prosecuting attorney, who defends the city, to mitigate further risk by settling out of court or proceeding to trial.
To guide this important decision, the prosecuting attorney can order investigators to laser scan the scene and, if necessary, scientifically reconstruct the incident for analysis. If the technology has not yet been adopted by local law enforcement, a firm that specializes in scene documentation, reconstruction analysis, and 3D visualization can be consulted.
Once the scene and claims have been analyzed, the prosecuting attorney will be in a better position to minimize further risk. The laser scan data may prove favorable or unfavorable to the city’s case. The reconstruction, for example, may reveal that the bus driver was partially at fault when the pedestrian was hit. “They need to know that because they assume that’s going to get figured out by the other side anyway,” said Craig Fries, founder and CEO of forensic analysis and visualization firm Precision Simulations. “And that might be a case where they say, ‘You know what, we aren’t going to trial on this one. We are somewhat responsible. We are going to pay out some money.’”
Regardless of what the scan data may reveal, the prosecuting attorney must ascertain the strength of the case. “What might seem like bad news often for the defense attorney in a civil case is just information,” Fries said. This data can now help determine whether it is in the best interest of the city to settle the case for pennies on the dollar or to spend the money and take the risk of going to trial. “And if it’s a money case—civil litigation—what might have settled for $500,000 is going to be worth $5 million, $10 million, $15 million by the time they get it to the jury,” Fries explains. “So it’s risk management.”
The Laser Scanner’s Risk Assessment Role in Criminal Cases
In a criminal case, risk assessment addresses the likelihood of conviction. If the probability is low, risk mitigation can take the form of a plea agreement. If the possibility of conviction is high, the prosecutor can proceed to court. A recent example is the 2013 Wallin-Reed case, in which Gregory Wallin-Reed, of Reno, Nev., was found guilty of the first-degree murder of Rory McGuire, of Susanville, Calif.
The emotionally charged and confusing case, which was featured on Dateline NBC on Oct. 18, 2013, illustrates the risk-management capabilities of 3D laser scan data in determining the likelihood of a murder conviction. “This was an exceptionally difficult case,” said Plumas County District Attorney David Hollister, who contracted Precision Simulations to build his case. “One of our greatest challenges was presenting many pieces of seemingly isolated evidence in a logical and visually understandable manner. By utilizing a 3D scene reconstruction, we were able to overlay numerous pieces of evidence in a manner that factually eliminated the argument of self-defense and compelled a verdict of first degree murder.”
When adversities occur in the public safety realm, risk mitigation often falls into the purview of a prosecuting attorney who must determine whether to settle, plea bargain or proceed to trial. In some cases, laser scan data and scene reconstruction can help identify the path of least risk. No matter what course of action is implemented, 3D laser scanner technology provides a win-win risk-management strategy that can mitigate financial impact and, in so doing, yield a high return on investment and potentially pay for itself in a single case.
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About the author: Wendy Lyons is journalist living in Canton, Georgia, who spent several years writing about surveying technology for POB magazine. She now focuses on covering laser scanning and other geospatial measurement solutions for public safety professionals.