In New York personal injury cases, the videotape is a frequently used tool of defense lawyers, and can be very damaging at trial if the video contradicts the client’s deposition testimony concerning their physical limitations as the result of an accident.
In order to properly prepare clients for the likelihood of the surveillance video, we recommend the following:
1. Advise the client to warn neighbors that they expect videographers to come by, seeking information as to their daily schedules and activities, and that the videographer will often claim that they are working for the client or need to speak with them about the accident;
2. Even if the client is not feeling the effects of an injury on a particular day and wants to “just see if I can do it”, videotapes of your client changing a tire, lifting heavy packages, shoveling a driveway, or renovating the house are difficult to explain away at trial;
3. Let the client know, for example, that there is a strong possibility that they will be on surveillance going in and out of the insurance company doctor’s office, and must not choose that day to see if they can walk without using their cane!;
4. Defense lawyers will always ask about vacations (which might have been planned well in advance of an accident) and attendance at family gatherings (weddings are a classic example). Videotaped activities such as water skiing, basketball, and dancing (even if the client took several painkillers in advance) will have a very damaging impact when jurors are asked to award damages for pain and suffering.
In summary, although many clients to their credit want to fight through the pain and live as normal a life as possible, during the pendency of an accident case, clients should be warned to be selective about where and when to return to pre-accident activities.