Computer Animation In The Courtroom: The Quirky Case of Arcadian Fertilizer LP v. MPW Industrial Services

“A judge or clerk of any court of the US may tax exemplification fees and the costs of making copies of any materials where the copies are necessarily obtained for use in the case” - U.S. Code 1920(4)

Using computer animation in a court case is not restricted to injury-related cases. Its use transcends medical cases, construction cases, and vehicular cases. A perfect example of its diverse use is the case of Arcadian Fertilizer LP v. MPW Industrial Services decided on May 2, 2001. In this case, an animation was used to explain how a production process can be carried out. 

In this case, Arcadian filed suit for negligence and breach of contract by MPW Industrial Services. MPW was contracted by Arcadian, a fertilizer firm with a facility specialized in ammonia production in Augusta, Georgia, to remove the build-up from a set of boiler tubes. Water and steam leaked from the boiler tubes in less than a month, indicating that there had been a rupture. A brush fragment was seen jammed against a busted tube that MPW technicians had worked on.

Computer Animation in this Case

During the trial, a computer animation was played by Arcadian. The animation was made to show the chemical process used by the company to make fertilizers. Besides that, it also showed the events leading up to the tube rupture. On the contract claim, the jury awarded $2,800,000 in compensatory damages and $980,000 in pre-judgment interest.

Following the trial, Arcadian filed a bill of expenses, which included a claim for $29,208.97 for trial exhibits, among other things. Arcadian’s portion of the $3,173.42 was for copies of large papers, color photos, and video displays. Arcadian claimed an extra $25,675.55 in computer animation expenditures. Then the trial court agreed that the computer animation was very useful to the jury, and MPW was to pay half of the entire cost of the animation, which was $12,837.77. 

In its brief, MPW claims that the district court abused its discretion by including Arcadian’s expenses for trial exhibits and computer animation as compensatory damages. Citing 28 U.S. Code § 1920(4) – Taxation of costs, Arcadian answers that expenditures connected with larger papers, color pictures, and videotape exhibits are exemplifications and are recoverable when utilized at trial provided they were necessary for use in the case. 

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