The Value of Video in our Practice

We live in a nation which is criss-crossed by surveillance cameras. This may seem like an affront to our personal security, but it is a necessary evil. Store owners mount cameras outside their shops, traffic cameras help law enforcement catch traffic rule breakers, and news outlets install cameras at intersections in order to catch action in real time as it happens. Add to this the fact that virtually everyone has a cell phone which records video, and odds are, it was caught on video.  In order to prove that someone else was responsible for your injuries, video footage may be needed. That being said, just because footage exists doesn’t mean that you are entitled to it.

Traffic cameras as well as any cameras around the scene of an accident usually catch the action in real time. However, it is important to go through the right channels if you want to get a hold of this footage. For example, if you want to access footage from a camera that belongs to a local shop near the side of the road where your accident happened, you should speak to the manager as soon as possible.


Sometimes they will provide you with the footage.  If they won’t you will need a court order or subpoena.  At a minimum, you should send a certified letter called a “Preservation Letter.”  This notifies the store that their video may contain valuable evidence and not to destroy it.  If they do, they can be additionally liable.

In the case of traffic cameras, you may have to reach out to various public and private agencies.  We always send an immediate preservation letter via certified mail.  From there, we can usually obtain the video footage using a Freedom of Information (FOIA) request.  This requires governmental agencies to turn over certain materials, including video footage, within a period of time.  There are exceptions which allow governmental agencies to deny a FOIA request, the most common being, “an ongoing criminal investigation.”  In those circumstances, a subpoena or court order is required.

We also frequently obtain video from the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA).  Because they are a governmental organization, a simple FOIA works to provide us with the video we need.  The CTA has extensive video surveillance on all its trains and buses.  It catches the good, the bad and the ugly.  Frequently in cases involving the CTA, the video makes or breaks the case.  There’s no hiding from what the video reveals. Here’s video from a case we were involved in where a CTA train derailed and crashed up the escalator.

As for cell phone video, the first place we look is on-line.  People post so many videos that we often find what we are looking for simply by searching youtube or facebook live or other video channels.  If we find it, we can reach out to the individual electronically since, in addition to the video, they were a witness.  Most people are happy to cooperate, I think, because they enjoy their 15 minutes of fame.  If we can’t find video on-line, we sometimes employ a private investigator to try to locate witnesses.  Once again, if we find someone with video, even if they don’t post it on-line, most people are cooperative.  I explain, there’s an easy way and a hard way, but I’ll get the video from the cell phone.  The hard way, of course, is obtaining a subpoena or court order.

People expect video these days.  When there is no video, we find jurors are more skeptical of witness testimony.  Video footage may be the only thing that will stand between you and winning a personal injury lawsuit. The footage will prove in a definitive manner that the actions of the other driver were solely to blame for the accident which occurred, eliminating hearsay or conflicting witness testimony. While it can be complicated to get video, it is well worth the effort.