If you have been injured in a car accident and wish to pursue a personal injury claim to recover the damages you have suffered as a result of the crash, it's very important to collect and preserve strong evidence that can be used to support your claim.
In fact, strong physical evidence that supporting your claim — whether that be photographs, video, witness statements, or a police report — can drastically improve your chances of a successful and favorable resolution to your personal injury case.
Over time, attorneys have seen a dramatic increase in the number of accident victims who have documented photographs or video of the car accident that injured them by the time they contact us.
This shouldn't be surprising. With increases in capability and affordability of vehicle technology, it's much easier for the average driver to have a high-definition video surveillance system installed today. Some drivers even go the extra mile and get cameras that keep recording while the car is parked and the engine turned off.
And the dash cam craze has blossomed worldwide. In countries like Russia, where law enforcement is often corrupt and untrustworthy and the legal system discounts witness testimony, it is much easier to seek damages for car accident if you have actual video footage of the collision.
Though the American legal system doesn't present the same challenges, the truth remains that strong video evidence of a collision is definitely helpful in successfully proving your claim.
Below is a real-life example of footage from a bicyclist's own personal video camera which captured an accident that caused significant injury to the bicyclist:
Footage captured by cyclist Dan Scarf of a hit-and-run in Bellevue, Washington.
What is a Dash Cam?
A dash cam is the shorthand name for a dashboard-mounted video camera that records audio and video of what the driver sees. Some models can also record what is going on inside the vehicle.
If you take a step up in price, some dash cams include GPS coordinates for where and when an event occurred, which can be key if the footage will be presented in court.
Footage from dash cams is stored on an SD memory.
Are Dash Cams Legal in the United States?
Yes, dash cams are generally legal to install in private vehicles and the footage is almost always admissible as evidence in court.
However, you should be careful about what your dash cam is recording. If you vehicle is parked in an area and private property can be recorded with your dash cam, you should turn it off.
Also, if the dash cam is recording passengers inside your vehicle, you must inform them that the dash cam is on and recording them. You should turn it off if they do not consent.
How is Dash Cam Evidence Used in Court?
From a criminal standpoint, video footage of a collision is especially helpful to police in their efforts to track down a hit-and-run driver, for example. Video evidence for criminal cases can come from nearby traffic cameras or surveillance cameras from nearby businesses.
If you do have your own personal footage of the accident, they’ll likely be happy to review that too.
In a civil case for damages, video of your accident may be important evidence to prove who is liable for the collision. It is not uncommon for liability to be heavily disputed by insurance companies and the parties involved in car accident cases, especially if one or more of the parties involved are badly injured.
If you believe that you were not at fault for causing the collision, but the other driver’s insurance is insisting that you were, video evidence 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. But seeing a collision take place on screen can help jurors understand how much damage a speeding vehicle can really do, as well as who was responsible for causing the accident in the first place.
For personal injury lawsuits, evidence rules dictate that courts will only admit evidence that is determined to be "relevant" to the case. Attorneys from both sides submit evidence to the court, and the judge assigned to your case will determine which evidence is allowed and which evidence may not be allowed based on local evidence rules.
Since it would be very difficult to argue that video footage of the incident that the lawsuit is based on is not relevant to the case, the dash cam or GoPro footage should be admissible in court.
Other Ways Photos and Video are Helpful
There are many other ways that you and your attorney can use visual evidence to help establish the facts of the accident and the severity of the damage, which ultimately support your case. 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
Beware: Dash Cams Can Go Both Ways
If you are the defendant in an injury case, the plaintiff’s video evidence may be used against you.
If the footage from your dash cam is grainy, low-quality and generally unclear, or does not show what happened clearly, there is a chance that it won’t be of much use to support your claim.
However, even plaintiffs have to be careful about what they say or do on video. Examples of video or photographic evidence that the defense may use against you might include:
- 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
- Video footage of you angrily confronting or berating the other party involved in the collision at the scene.
- Video footage can be extremely useful in personal injury lawsuits and can make or break a case for a plaintiff or defendant. If your case doesn't make it all the way to a jury trial in court, video or photographic evidence can still be useful during the negotiation process with the insurance company. Strong evidence supports the chances of a successful outcome at trial, which puts pressure on the insurance company to offer you a fair and reasonable settlement.
Will a Dash Cam Lower Your Insurance Rates?
Some car insurance companies in the United Kingdom offer 10 to 15 percent discounts for customers with dash cams installed in their vehicles.
However, the same isn't the case for United States insurers, and might not be for a while.
The following comes from a spokeswoman for State Farm, explained to cars.com:
“When we [State Farm] provide a discount it is based on something that we believe will lower our claims costs, such as a customer’s driving history that indicates he or she is a safe driver. While a dash cam may provide information about why a crash occurred, it is not a device that is designed to inhibit the crash from happening in the first place.