Let's Go to the Video!

Barry P. Goldberg recognizes that more and more cases are being decided by video evidence from many different sources. The cost of surveillance video and equipment has dropped dramatically over the years and is not limited to large commercial establishments and gasoline service stations. In fact, almost most retail businesses and many private homes have surveillance cameras. The trick is identifying the cameras and taking prompt steps to obtain the videos. Even though videos are now digital, many locations still overwrite data on a pre-set regular basis. So, in addition to locating the cameras, it is absolutely critical to demand that the images be preserved.

In addition to the traditional sources of video, our office has now had several high profile cases that have been featured on local news stations. In fact, in one case, the local news reporter obtained surveillance video from a service station and re-broadcast that video on the news. With the help of our IT consultant, we were able to isolate that re-broadcast video into a separate file for use as evidence in the case. For that same case, we obtained aerial photographs and other photographs from the news stories that helped establish the position of vehicles and landmarks. If that were not enough, we obtained witness statements from people originally identified by the news crew!

An experienced trial attorney understands that it is not easy to convince a business to "give up" its video resources voluntarily. Usually, smaller businesses are more than glad to comply. However, larger institutions will only provide video after receiving a properly issued subpoena. Then, it goes to the legal department for a response. The problem with this approach is that it requires that a lawsuit be filed immediately in order to have a case number on the subpoena. A lawsuit is not necessarily the best approach in every case.

In either situation, our office recommends that a letter be sent to the business demanding that the business take immediate action to preserve the video into a useable format. Our office always offers to pay any related costs. Moreover, we offer to have our own IT consultant assist in retrieving the desired video if the business is in anyway unsure how to do so. Finally, the business is warned that the video is evidence and that destruction of evidence could constitute a tort and create liability and damages.

Recent experience in our office is that video will turn a disputed case into a clear liability case every time. We have tried a case featuring a video of an overloaded pallet falling on our client. In another case, our client took a cell phone video of a car dealership video monitor which happened to record her disputed red light accident. Her video clearly showed that the other driver was at fault. This last week, a bicyclist brought in video obtained from a business which showed that she was hit by a motorist while she was legally in a cross walk. That motorist actually sued her claiming that the bicycle ran into her causing property damages. The video will establish liability without question.

So, if you are involved in an accident it is important to look around either at the time of the accident or shortly thereafter to locate any surveillance cameras. Then, an immediate effort should be made to secure that video footage. An experienced personal injury attorney is your best bet in properly securing video evidence and all evidence establishing liability and damages.


DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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