Can footage from my GoPro or dashcam be used in court?

gopro on helmetThe rise of tiny, affordable electronics has led to a revolution in video technology. Once confined to bulky handheld cameras with removable tapes, cameras with video capacity can now go almost anywhere: on phones, bike helmets, dashboards, drones, and more.

Accidents happen—and now, with increasing frequency, they’re happening on camera. The dashcam craze started in Russia, where untrustworthy law enforcement and a legal system that discounted witness testimony made it easier to seek damages if you had video of the collision.

In America, small, portable cameras were first sold to sports enthusiasts who wanted to create first-person videos of their experiences on bikes, snowboards, and skateboards. But bikers who took their cameras out on city streets found that there was another advantage to recording their ride: if they were injured in an accident, the video could be used as evidence in court.

Footage captured by a cyclist in Seattle. The 18-year-old driver fled the scene, but later turned himself in to police. Source: YouTube

How will video evidence be used?

Police will examine video of a collision, especially if they’re trying to track down a hit-and-run driver. This video may come from nearby traffic cameras or surveillance cameras from nearby businesses. If you do have your own personal footage of the accident, they’ll review that too.

In a civil case for damages, video of your accident may be important evidence. If you were not at fault but the other driver’s insurance is insisting that you were, video can help set the record straight. If the case does go to trial, it can also influence the opinions of the jury. Jurors sometimes suspect that people who are asking for large amounts of money in court are being greedy or exaggerating the facts of the accident; seeing a collision take place on screen can help them understand how much damage a speeding can really do.

Footage captured by cyclist Dan Scarf of a hit-and-run in Bellevue, Washington. Source: YouTube

Can I use video or pictures that don’t show the collision itself?

There are many ways to use visual evidence to establish the facts of the accident and the severity of the damage. A personal injury attorney may use:

  • Images of your car or bike at the scene of the accident showing how badly it was damaged
  • Images of the car or truck that struck you, showing how much damage they caused to their own vehicle by slamming into you
  • Video of witnesses at the scene
  • Video or images of your injuries at the scene, in the hospital, or at home

Can video evidence be used against me at trial?

If you are the defendant in an injury case, the plaintiff’s video evidence may be used against you. However, even plaintiffs have to be careful about what they say or do on video. A defense attorney may use:

  • Surveillance video of you performing activities you told the court that you could no longer do, or even activities that you can still do which the defense attorney will use to argue that you are fully functional after the accident
  • Pictures or video of you on social media that show you participating in sports, lifting heavy objects, or even standing and walking normally if you have told the court you cannot do those activities