PART 4 — FIGHT OR SETTLE: THE IN-VEHICLE VIDEO AS EVIDENCE
“Sometimes you just have to settle the damn case. At least the cameras will let us know when.” Jesse P. Gaddis
As you can tell from my prior postings, I am a proponent of the in-vehicle camera as a risk management tool designed to reduce accidents. As an attorney with extensive jury trial experience, I understand when all else fails, the in-vehicle camera provides valuable evidence that allows an early evaluation of liability.
For thirty years, I defended commercial motor vehicle drivers who, after an accident, would usually look me in the eye and proclaim their innocence no matter what the evidence was. Drivers who ran into the back of stopped cars would claim they were cut off in traffic. Drivers who ran a stop sign and had impacts at speed would claim they came to a complete stop and were in an accident with a vehicle that came out of nowhere. Fleet operators would become incensed when I explained eye witness testimony and physical evidence established their driver’s fault. Cases would be defended with mounting attorneys’ fees and costs because adjusters would side with an insured driver no matter what the totality of the evidence showed.
When the best efforts to avoid accidents fail, the in-vehicle camera’s secondary purpose comes into play – evidence of what really happened. Video that exonerates a driver is what most people want. No question, Yellow Cab uses in-vehicle camera video for this purpose. Florida case law allows a defendant in a lawsuit to take the deposition of a plaintiff before disclosing the contents of a surveillance video. Yellow Cab has successfully argued both in the Trial Court and on appeal that this doctrine extends to video its cameras capture.
Yellow Cab recently settled a disputed liability case for $3,000 when the plaintiff’s demand had been for the $125,000 policy limit before her deposition. The Yellow Cab driver made a left turn onto a major east/west road from a private drive when it impacted the plaintiff’s vehicle. Video showed the plaintiff’s vehicle crossing from the far right lane through two travel lanes before it ran into the cab as it completed its turn into the far left lane. Not knowing what the video showed, the plaintiff in deposition claimed she had been in the far left lane for miles before the accident and the cab had just turned into her car. When confronted with the video, the plaintiff accepted a nominal settlement even though she had over $20,000 in medical bills.
Unfortunately, the case described in the prior paragraph cost over $20,000 in fees and costs to get it into a settlement position. Litigation is costly, whether or not a case eventually ends up being tried to verdict. In my opinion, the in-vehicle video’s value as evidence of what occurred is just as valuable when it proves the Yellow Cab driver’s fault as when it exonerates the driver. Most often Yellow Cab knows who was at fault within hours of an accident. The video allows its claims staff to make a decision almost immediately – should Yellow Cab settle or should it fight.
No question, control of the situation, which includes control of potential claimants is enhanced when fault can be determined immediately. A Yellow Cab driver with three passengers was exiting a shopping center. His passengers, out-of-town visitors, were getting a rundown from the driver about what to do when in town. The driver was into his role as a tour guide, and as he exited the center’s drive, he struck an elderly man riding a scooter on the sidewalk. The scooter was there to be seen, but the driver was distracted by his conversation with his passengers. The scooter was knocked into the travel lane and the elderly gentleman was knocked off it.
Without the video, Yellow Cab would rely on its driver’s version of the accident. The driver claimed the scooter shot out in front of him and that his view of the sidewalk was obstructed. The video showed something else. Within hours, Yellow Cab’s risk manager had contacted the scooter rider and had negotiated a settlement of both the damage to the scooter (it was a total) and the injury to its rider. The case was settled within 48 hours with a complete release of claims.
The extent to which individual claim’s results were impacted by a video is difficult to measure. What isn’t difficult to measure is that Yellow Cab’s accidents and claims were reduced after it installed the DriveCam system, and that its per-claim payments were historically lower than they had been.