3 Cases Where Surveillance Footage Made a Difference.
Regardless of the merits of the ongoing debate about the use of surveillance cameras in public places, we all know that their use is ubiquitous. Security cameras are routinely used by law enforcement, banks, stores, toll booths, homeowners, and more. Some reports estimate that nearly every American citizen is caught on camera several times per day.
The remarkable proliferation of surveillance cameras has impacted the way conscientious personal injury attorneys investigate their cases. Because the claimant has the burden of proof in an injury claim, a case of “he said, she said” without corroborative evidence can be a risky proposition at trial. This is particularly true in Virginia, one of only four states that recognizes the doctrine of contributory negligence. Simply stated, that doctrine denies any recovery whatsoever to a person whose negligence contributed to the happening of the accident, even if it is only 2% or 3% of the total negligence. (Most states have some form of comparative negligence, a doctrine that deducts the claimant’s percentage of fault from the verdict amount.) Interestingly, from our perspective, use of surveillance cameras has been an effective antidote to the denials of defendants, as the three cases below illustrate.
Case #1. Our client, while driving a tractor-trailer, claimed that an automobile in the merge lane of an on-ramp to his right suddenly drove into the side of his truck, causing his head to be slammed into the side window and injuring his neck. The collision occurred during the day under clear, dry conditions. It defied logic that a driver could have failed to observe the truck. Even if the other driver was primarily negligent, the suggestion that our client may have drifted to his right raised the defense of contributory negligence. Our client was so seriously injured that he ultimately required spinal surgery. The stakes were high. Remarkably, the large trucking company had two cameras in the truck, one pointing outward and one pointing at the driver. One look at those tapes caused the defendant’s insurance company to throw in the towel. The case settled at policy limits.
Case #2. In a highly publicized murder case in which a husband and father of four was accused of murdering his wife, the principal issue for the prosecutor in the criminal case and plaintiff’s counsel in the civil case was whether he or some other intruder entered the wife’s home on night of the murder. The husband contended he was nowhere near her home on the night of the crime. A thorough investigation revealed that a neighbor’s security camera had recorded the image of a man approaching the subject house at one of the only times he could have entered it undetected. The film clip, grainy and recorded at night, did not clearly identify the man’s face, but it did show a gait that was consistent with the husband’s earlier athletic injury. It was likely the prosecution’s most important piece of evidence. The jury found the husband guilty; the judge imposed the jury’s recommended sentence of life in prison.
Case #3. In this case, our client was a shopper who was hurt in a large parking lot outside of a big box retailer. The woman called us from the hospital after a week of being treated for a serious orthopedic injury. She explained that she had left the store in which she had been shopping, reached the edge of the sidewalk in front of it, and saw two cars. She made eye contact with the drivers, both of whom were stopped, and started across the road. As she reached the middle of the road, one of the vehicles suddenly accelerated into the road and struck her. She was catapulted several feet in the air and landed on the pavement. The offending driver can be heard on the 911 tape saying he “bumped” a pedestrian. This had the makings of a classic “he said, she said” case until the store owner provided a video of the entire event. Importantly showed our client coming out of the store, looking both ways twice, starting across the road, and suddenly being slammed and launched by a fast moving vehicle. The “he said” part instantly did not matter. The tape said it all.
The Moral of the Stories
Surveillance cameras are no doubt controversial, and understandably so for those who place a high value on privacy. But there is little doubt that they can be invaluable to plaintiffs and prosecutors faced with the burden of proof, and defendants who are inclined to take self-serving liberties with the truth.