Case Studies

Virtual Reality Shows Child’s Impaired Vision in Mediation

Tom Hall, Mark Atlee, Jaime Jackson, Jeff Gutkowski, Angelina Umstead, and Melissa Jabour, Atlee Hall, Lancaster, PA

High Impact's Virtual Reality Exhibit was used for the first time in a recent mediation that placed Defendants inside the perspective of a child who lost most of his eyesight to a misdiagnosed brain tumor.

Atlee Hall attorneys Tom Hall, Esq., Mark Atlee, Esq., Jaime Jackson, Esq., Jeff Gutkowski, Esq.,  Angelina Umstead, Esq., and Melissa Jabour, Esq., needed to show the magnitude to which the child's vision had been profoundly destroyed by the tumor, which had gone repeatedly undiagnosed for almost 9 months. We built the following VR presentation, which helped the Defense understand why the young victim deserved a significant (confidential) settlement.

According to our research, this was the first documented case of virtual reality being used in a legal mediation.

 
Attorneys from Atlee Hall explain why they used virtual reality in mediation.

You think you know what your client's injuries are, but until I put on those virtual reality goggles, I don't think I really understood the profound impact.

Tom Hall, Atlee Hall, Lancaster, PA

Experiencing virtual reality for the purpose of demonstrating vision loss was intense. It puts you in that position that you wouldn't want to be in. It's a little bit frightening, and that's kind of what we were going for so people could really understand what it would be like to stand in his shoes and experience what he is going to be able to see for the rest of his life. 

Mark Atlee, Esq., Atlee Hall, Lancaster, PA

The thing that struck me was the look on the Defense attorney's face when he put the goggles on, and he took them off, and he turned immediately to his insurance adjuster and said, 'We need to talk.' And you knew that the product High Impact had produced was impactful, and provided a tangible effect on the outcome of those negotiations.

Jeff Gutkowski, Atlee Hall, Lancaster, PA

What Happened

The tragedy began when a young boy started experiencing morning headaches and vomiting. The symptoms continued over a period of months. His doctors believed the vomiting was an unspecified gastrointestinal issue, and the headaches were caused by general anxiety related to school. In reality, the symptoms were caused by a tumor growing in the occipital part of the child's brain.

As the tumor grew, the increased intracranial pressure caused cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) to compress around the child's optic nerves in a choking manner, severely damaging the nerve (AS ILLUSTRATED BELOW). Swelling over the optic discs bulged into the back wall of the child's eyeballs, causing severe papilledema. The child experienced significant disruption to his field of vision, color perception, and visual acuity. Over the course of about nine months, his vision would devolve into a reality that looked increasingly blurry, colorless and shrinking in periphery. 

As doctors continued to downplay symptoms and the child's vision continued to worsen, his concerned mother took him to an optometrist at the local mall to be fitted for eyeglasses. The initial testing by the optometrist immediately showed that the child had no color vision and virtually no peripheral vision. After shining an ophthalmoscope into each eye for about 10 seconds, he quickly determined the child's optic discs were badly swollen, and immediately sent the child to the emergency room for an MRI. It was there doctors discovered the brain tumor that had irreversibly destroyed his vision.

Virtual Reality Shows Child’s Impaired Vision in Mediation
This Illustrated Timeline charts the optical damage the brain tumor caused over nine months.

Today our client is legally blind. He has roughly 10 to 15 percent of central visual acuity. So, he's got a little part right in front of his one eye that he can see out of. The visual acuity is very poor. So, what you see at 400 feet, he needs it to be at 20 feet to get the same visual. 

Jeff Gutkowski, Atlee Hall, Lancaster, PA

We wanted to show how his field of vision, his visual acuity, and his color vision had been profoundly destroyed by the fact that he had a brain tumor that went undiagnosed for nearly nine months.

Tom Hall, Atlee Hall, Lancaster, PA

The idea was: how can we take a juror and put them in those shoes?

Mark Atlee, Atlee Hall, Lancaster, PA

Why Virtual Reality?

High Impact was unveiling its brand new Virtual Reality Exhibit at the 2017 AAJ Convention in Boston, MA, when Mark Atlee and Visual Litigation Strategist Tyler Komarnycky first discussed the possibilities of using virtual reality to demonstrate vision impairment.

 
High Impact unveiled its Virtual Reality Exhibit in this promo video before the 2017 AAJ Convention in Boston, MA.

We do a lot at High Impact, and part of my job is to collaborate with the attorney to find out what makes the most sense for their case.

Tyler Komarnycky, Visual Litigation Strategist, High Impact

Atlee Hall needed a way to convey the child’s visual impairment and asked whether it would be possible to recreate the child’s vision in a virtual reality that jurors could experience in a courtroom. Tyler affirmed that with the right experts who could help lay the foundation of accuracy, it could definitely be done. Mr. Atlee confirmed that they could provide some of the most esteemed ophthalmology experts in the industry, and the project kicked off.

We happen to have people involved who are immensely well-respected experts in their fields, and they've been able to give High Impact the tools they need to do great work for us over the years; and lay that groundwork where we're comfortable moving forward and getting these projects admitted.

Mark Atlee, Atlee Hall, Lancaster, PA

Developing A Visual Strategy

We worked closely with Atlee Hall and its experts from the beginning to lay the foundation for a virtual reality exhibit that would maintain the highest degree of accuracy while delivering the most compelling experience possible. Having worked with Atlee Hall on many complex medical malpractice cases in the past, the process was extremely collaborative, as Tyler and Atlee Hall's attorneys explain below.

 
Tyler and Atlee Hall describe how their collaborative relationship works to deliver powerful visual presentations.

The first step to creating a virtual reality exhibit was to choose an environment where the user could experience the impairments first-hand. We chose a baseball stadium for two reasons.

  1. Emotional Connection: The child loved all sports, including baseball, and possessed sentimental memories of playing baseball - memories he would never relive.
  2. Foundational Accuracy: The size and dimensions of a baseball stadium are measured and defined so that we could accurately calibrate the experts' input data to exact distances and parameters.

We built the stadium and added the option to turn visual measurements on and off, to reinforce its foundational accuracy. We also added the option to add or remove players from the virtual field, giving the viewer a sense of what it was like for the child to make out specific details.

 
The defined dimensions of a baseball stadium made it perfect for foundational accuracy.

We also programmed the ability to transport the user to multiple locations in the stadium, including the pitcher's mound, behind the plate, the nose-bleed section of the stands, and even one of the dugouts. This enabled the user to experience how the child perceived the world from different distances and perspectives while capturing the totality of the boy's reality.

 
The VR exhibit enabled users to experience the vision impairments from multiple locations.

Atlee Hall's ophthalmologist experts provided all the data we needed to control the cameras within the VR headset to match exactly what the boy could see. As demonstrated below, the experience compares normal vision of the environment to the child's vision under both high-light - where a light is pointed directly into the eyes - and low-light conditions.

 
Comparing normal vision to the vision of the child under high-light and low-light conditions.

We were able to ensure a fair and accurate representation of what the boy could see by working with the experts - they were amazing in this case. They provided us all the data we needed to make sure all of our calculations and calibrations were correct and dead-on. We had several meetings with the experts showing what we were doing as we were building the entire simulation to get their sign off on whether it was accurate to what their data was showing.

Dieter Sliter, Technical Director, High Impact

Impact at Mediation

Tyler and Dieter Sliter, High Impact's Technical Director, traveled to Atlee Hall in Lancaster, PA, to help operate the virtual reality exhibit during the mediation. The defendants' entire legal team tried on the goggles, and what transpired was one of the most emotional mediations Tyler and Dieter had ever experienced.

When we allowed the insurance adjusters and the defendants themselves to look through these virtual reality goggles, their reaction was palpable. One of them even started crying. They had no idea what this little boy has been going through.

Tom Hall, Atlee Hall, Lancaster, PA

I do believe it added substantial value to the case and I saw it. I saw it in the mediation, I saw it when people put those goggles on, and probably the more significant reaction to me - and it would have been worth doing had we not even used it in mediation - was giving the parents the opportunity to experience their son's reality for the first time.

Mark Atlee, Atlee Hall, Lancaster, PA

After the mediation, both parents were invited into the room to try on the virtual reality goggles. The mother took it off and began crying after only a few moments inside the headset. The father cried inside the headset as he experienced his son's vision impairment. 

As his mom and dad were learning how their son sees the world for the first time, the child turned to his parents to say, 'You can see what I see now? That's really cool!' And he was really jazzed about making sure that his parents and his sister could understand how he saw the world and what he saw.

Jeff Gutkowski, Atlee Hall, Lancaster, PA

He was genuinely excited that now they could understand his world. So these exhibits are not just communication tools directed to the defendants. They actually, in this case, helped my clients, and that was very moving.

Tom Hall, Atlee Hall, Lancaster, PA

High Impact’s team of visual strategists, artists and developers can build and customize your digital presentation for any case involving personal injury, medical malpractice, birth trauma - or any subject involving complex information.

Interested in working with us? Click here to get started. If you'd prefer, you can email us, call us at (800) 749 2184, or live chat with one of our visual litigation strategists.