For the first time in my life, I received a summons for jury duty. I was over-the-moon thrilled. No really. I was. As I gushed with excitement, I noticed my family looking at me like I’d lost my mind. “Why would you want to be on a jury?” my children asked. “Because I want to know what it’s like to be in that room, deciding a case . . . and civic duty, blah, blah, blah.” I get that most folks are not going to be as excited as I am to see the inner workings of a jury, but I’ve also noticed a general dread of jury service. But, would all of that change if virtual reality worked its way into the courtroom?

If you haven’t had the chance to experience virtual reality gaming, I highly recommend it. My son got a Vive for Christmas, and it’s blown my mind. You don’t even need to be a gamer. Just take a walk through Google Earth, and you’ll be a convert to the world of VR. The applications of virtual reality appear endless, but can it work in a courtroom? I’d like to think the answer is “Yes!”

Suppose you are defending a workplace injury lawsuit in which your operator/employee improperly fed a piece of material into a machine and lost three fingers. Describing the proper operating procedure while using a laser pointer on a blow up of a diagram of the machine or showing a video of the machine in operation are both legitimate ways of explaining your case to the jury. But, would you rather show the jury the machine itself? Would that make it easier to explain how the accident occurred and why it was preventable? There are rules that permit an attorney to ask the court to allow a site visit by a jury. But, these are not readily granted and are awkward to arrange, to say the least.

Now, think about how virtual reality could let you explain your case. The jury puts on headsets and headphones and instantly experiences a sensory transport to your plant. The jury could safely watch a demonstration of the proper operation of the machine. They could walk around it. They could see the guards and posted warnings on the machine. Heck, the jury could operate the machine. What was once a complicated explanation challenging the imagination of the jury has become a virtual reality for it.

For those of you who have had the misfortune of going through a jury trial, you know that one of the most difficult parts is preparing your employee witnesses for their testimony. HR is typically very much aware of who is not troubled in the least by speaking to an audience and who is likely to do dreadfully on the stand. A completely honest witness can cause a trial to crumble out of a bad case of the nerves. Trust me – I’ve seen it. With virtual reality, however, that employee could be placed in front of a jury to practice responding to questions and to gain more confidence in the process.

In my view, if VR can enhance performance in an operating room, in a factory, or in a science lab, then it can enhance the presentation of a case to a jury. Tech takes a long time to make its way into a courtroom, but when it does, I’ll bet everyone will be just as excited as I am about jury duty.

Vanessa Towarnicky's primary focus is in the area of labor and employment law. She has been involved in representing clients in various employment cases, including sexual harassment; deliberate intent; age, race, and disability discrimination; wrongful discharge; and various other employment-related torts. She is admitted to various state and federal courts as well as the Third Circuit Court of Appeals and Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.
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