How is video evidence impacting civil defense litigation?
Every breaking news story that might have been reported through eyewitness accounts now features at least one or more videos of the actual event shot by onlookers. Every person with a smartphone or other camera-equipped digital device is a potential source of a video clip for the evening news.
The widespread adoption of innovations in technology now makes it possible for every motor vehicle equipped with a dash-mounted digital camera and every bicycle or motorcycle rider with a helmet-mounted camera to capture events as they happen. These videos have made their way into courtrooms where they can be either a blessing or a curse for defense attorneys. No matter how you look at it, video evidence is changing the way in which civil cases are litigated.
Reducing settlements and winning over jurors
Favorable video evidence may drastically reduce settlements, or it may even sway a jury toward a defense verdict at trial. Video evidence brings eyewitness testimony to life by allowing judges and jurors to witness the scene themselves instead of having it described to them by someone who was there.
For instance, video evidence of an intersection collision can be used to contradict the testimony of a plaintiff claiming the defendant violated a red light. It can also be used to show the physical condition of the plaintiff immediately after an accident to contradict the injuries he or she claimed to have suffered.
Challenging the plaintiff’s version of the facts
As an attorney engaged in defense litigation on behalf of insurance carriers, I have firsthand experience of the ways in which video evidence has changed civil litigation. In one case I handled, a plaintiff claimed to have been injured when he was struck by a vehicle operated by our client.
The plaintiff testified that he was riding his bicycle in a safe manner, paying attention to traffic around him and in full control of his bicycle when he was hit. A video we obtained showed the plaintiff riding with his hands off the handlebars and apparently listening to music while wearing headphones just before he lost control of his bicycle and swerved into the path of our insured’s vehicle.
Implementing programs to take advantage of the new technology
The benefits of video evidence in the courtroom might convince insurance carriers to recommend the installation of digital cameras in the vehicles and premises owned by their policy holders. Before implementing such a program, the costs associated with purchasing, installing and maintaining the equipment must be taken into consideration along with the expenses related to monitoring and storing the videos.
When weighing the relative benefits of installing video cameras, keep in mind that digital video devices have become such an ever-present part of our lives. Jurors almost expect to see video evidence in addition to witness testimony and might be left wondering about the accuracy of witness accounts of the events when none is provided.
The future of video evidence in the courtroom
The obvious double-edged sword faced by attorneys is that the use of video evidence is not limited to the defense side of a case. Savvy plaintiff’s attorneys now use video evidence with increasing frequency to improve settlements and to persuade jurors to render verdicts that are favorable to their clients.
In short, the use of video evidence in courtrooms is destined to increase. As camera-equipped drones, body cameras worn by police officers and other technological innovations offer more access to video recordings of the events that go on around us, failing to use the evidence from this technology could be a mistake for trial attorneys.