Guest post by Andrew Clark, director of personal injury at Fletchers Solicitors
New technology is rapidly changing the world around us, permanently revolutionising our everyday lives. It is also changing the legal landscape, with law practitioners required to keep abreast of every new development to best help their clients.
This is particularly evident in personal injury law. From helmet and dash cameras to improved CCTV, the use of emerging technologies is becoming increasingly widespread in determining the outcome of personal injury claims. It can make the difference in helping win what would otherwise have been a case with a great risk of failure. It can help flush out fraudulent activity.
These new technological developments are resulting in an increasing amount of captured footage and data that can provide solid documentation of an event, helping to assist cases where there is a lack of other evidence available or an absence of witnesses.
Importantly, this technology can assist in speeding up the assessment of the merits of a claim, which can otherwise be a long and arduous process.
The quality of footage is something that has improved massively over the last few years; previously, the footage received would be grainy from CCTV cameras or early technology camera phones, but now the images and footage submitted are often crystal clear.
Dash cams and helmet mounted cameras are steadily becoming a normal part of everyday driving, and a widely used method of recording traffic incidents. They can prove extremely valuable in the case of a personal injury claim, acting as a neutral third-party witness and helping to objectively demonstrate how events unfolded. They can be invaluable in helping to establish the identity of hit-and-run drivers and bring them to justice.
Dash cam and helmet footage is increasingly being used by police, who can use it as evidence to issue penalties. Police forces are becoming more alive to the usefulness of this technology. ‘Operation Snap’ was launched in North Wales last year, in which motorists were encouraged to submit their captured dash cam or helmet footage of driving offences being committed, to their website.
What began as a pilot project has now been extended across Wales, such has been the success.
Whilst CCTV has long been used as a way of establishing the facts around a case, new surveillance technologies are being deployed across more and more public spaces to monitor public safety, bringing with it the opportunity to fight cases with better, more reliable evidence and greater confidence in pursuing litigation.
The public has also become a source of valuable footage, with bystanders to an incident often choosing to record events on their smartphones and then submitting this to police, or in some cases, uploading footage online.
Wearable consumer technology, such as fitness trackers, also have the potential to become a useful source of evidence in personal injury cases. By tracking the fitness and health data of an individual, it is possible to bolster evidence that a claimant has been physically impacted by an incident compared with their pre-accident lifestyle.
Establishing the credibility of the footage is obviously critical if it is to be relied upon. Some of the key things to be aware of are:
- Timestamping: If possible, the date and time needs to be clearly shown to help legitimise the footage.
- Length of footage: The incident should be shown in its entirety, providing an accurate account of the moments leading up to it, and the aftermath.
- Editing: Video editing software is very accessible, so it is vital to ensure that evidence has not been doctored.
- Quality: It is important that any footage is of a high enough resolution so that there is no doubt about the events, the individuals or the vehicles involved.
- Claimant behaviour: Whilst the footage may be of some assistance in determining a liability situation, it may also create difficulties – for example, if it shows evidence of antagonising or violent behaviour as a response – and this could then create problems with credibility.
- Expert evidence: Despite the obvious evidential value of having clear footage of an accident unfolding, it is not without its flaws. It is not unusual for dash cam footage to include repeated or dropped images, which means that vehicle speeds may be particularly difficult to gauge. What the eye can see on the footage may be misleading and expert analysis of footage may still be required, so that speeds and other relevant time/distance calculations can be forensically assessed.
- Timing: CCTV and other public surveillance technologies are at risk of being overwritten, unless a request for the footage is made within the necessary time limits, which are often as short as 30 days. Making timely investigations into the availability of CCTV could be the difference between winning and losing a case.
Technology is here to stay
The technologies that are now available will not remove the scope for legal disputes. However, they will be a very powerful tool in the armoury of a skilled and experienced personal injury lawyer, helping strengthen a case and to create a successful outcome for their clients.
As technology continues to advance, it is clear that it will be used with increasing regularity by the legal profession. It is crucial that, as lawyers, we use technology to our benefit, keeping pace with the available advancements and using them in innovative ways.