Traffic Collision and the Vanishing Video Evidence
From where does a case’s video evidence come? About eighteen months ago, a traffic collision left a local resident badly injured. The victim is now suing a garbage-truck driver and the driver’s employer for his injuries, lost wages, pain and suffering, etc. Although happening while dark out, at around 5am, a nearby business’ surveillance camera captured most of the accident. In conducting an investigation into the degree of responsibility the garbage truck driver had in causing the accident, all video evidence must be collected and evaluated, and video enhancement is often an extremely useful tool in helping to determine what happened.
In this article, we will explore not only how a forensic video expert may prepare and use evidence to help attorneys prepare for their cases, but we will also look at various methods and places to search for video evidence that attorneys often overlook.
In the above mentioned case, the forensic video expert hired to review and enhance the evidence was tasked with making several determinations regarding the actions of the garbage truck and driver. 1) Where was the truck positioned in relation to the building and road, 2) Did the driver make a left turn into the building parking lot (after the accident), or 3) Did the truck driver leave the accident scene, without picking up the garbage? What made making the above determinations difficult was that although the video evidence did show the accident, the garbage truck becomes obscured by headlights as more and more cars enter the camera’s view.
Where’s the (Additional) Video Evidence?
The first thing any attorney should know about their case’s evidence is that surveillance cameras are everywhere. Furthermore, there is other related evidence, such as measurements and information about nearby buildings and the surrounding environment, that could be crucial to answering important questions about the case or for creating a 3D Reconstruction of the accident scene. Although an attorney may be given one or two videos of an incident, one should not assume that this is the only video evidence pertaining to the case. It is very likely that a nearby building also may have cameras that captured some or all of the incident. Such cameras are easily overlooked by police, investigators, or even insurance investigators.
The forensic video expert working the above accident case went to the accident scene to attempt to recover other video evidence, as well as to take measurements. However, the expert was very surprised to find the building had been leveled six months prior, leaving only an empty dirt field. The lesson here: an attorney should not wait years or even months to have a forensic expert go to the scene. As soon as an attorney is given a case, they should assume there’s a very tight deadline to recover video evidence and have a forensic expert begin immediately.
As a result of the missing building, further forensic analysis had to be completed using only the surviving surveillance video and pictures from Google Earth.
A similar case was recently worked where forensic experts were asked to recover surveillance video of a DUI stop from a private establishment near the stop. The defense attorney claimed the DUI stop was unlawful, based on an erroneous traffic violation, and therefore it should be thrown out. Surveillance video would have shown that the driver did not commit the traffic violation as the officer claimed. However, because the defense waited 4 months before contacting their forensic video expert and requesting video from that surveillance system, the surveillance video that would have shown the traffic stop was automatically deleted by the surveillance system. It is typical that a surveillance system’s DVR will only save footage for a matter of days or weeks before automatically being deleted, unless the surveillance footage is locked or exported.
After completing a forensic video enhancement of the existing video evidence from the garbage truck accident, forensic experts found that the garbage truck driver did not make the left turn, thus failing to pickup the garbage as he claimed in an earlier deposition.
Analysis and enhancement of the surveillance video showed that several cars were in the lane next to the truck blocking the truck’s ability to make a left turn into the building’s parking lot. By disproving several claims made by the garbage truck driver, a more accurate degree of culpability was able to be placed on the driver and his company.
In summary, it is imperative that attorneys expedite the process of collecting video evidence and taking measurements on scene. Surveillance systems will not keep video evidence indefinitely and will typically begin automatically deleting evidence after a very short amount of time. Sometimes there is more evidence available than provided by either the opposing side or any of the involved parties. Nearby buildings, businesses, or even government owned fixtures (such as city light poles or traffic lights) may have cameras offering additional footage of the incident. Finally, be sure to have a forensic video expert evaluate all video evidence and perform a video enhancement to help you understand your evidence and uncover exactly what happened. The more detail attorneys can show a jury, the better results they can get for their case.