What would happen if you had a slip and fall accident in a department store and wound up waiting a month or two for your lawyer to alert the store to a pending lawsuit? One of the most commonly held notions among slip and fall victims is that all stores have video cameras, and video footage will reveal the truth. While that sounds logical, there are several obstacles that come up when attempting to use video footage as evidence in a slip and fall case.
Spoliation Of Video Footage Evidence
Spoliation of evidence occurs when a defendant purposely disposes of evidence that they know could be part of a potential lawsuit. When a plaintiff’s attorney subpoenas video footage in a slip and fall case, it is automatically assumed that the footage will be available and it will show the incident as it occurred. It may come as a shock to the plaintiff in a case like this that erased video is not only not always a case of spoliation of evidence, but it is often expected.
Even in this day of modern technology and computer innovation, storing video footage from a large number of security cameras in a public business requires a lot of computer storage space. Most courts consider it unreasonable to expect stores to keep all video footage archived and available for more than a few weeks. In reality, most retail stores erase video after three weeks to make room for new video. If a plaintiff’s lawyer waits too long to ask for video footage, then it may no longer exist and the store would not be held liable for the erased video.
The same can be said of physical evidence that is preserved after an accident. If a customer cuts themselves by picking up a jar from a grocery store shelf, then the store might be asked to preserve the jar for the court case. But if the store, through its usual process of maintenance to abide by food preservation and sanitation laws, throws the jar out, the courts may not consider that spoliation of evidence.
The Limits Of Evidence
How much video footage is a store expected to keep and for how long? If a store has 30 security cameras, then it cannot be expected to archive hours of video footage without notice. In some cases, the courts may direct a store to present only a small portion of the video that clearly shows the event occurring. If the plaintiff’s attorney decides a month later that the video provided is not enough, then it would be too late to expect the store to be able to provide additional footage.
Timing Affects Your Evidence
In a slip and fall lawsuit, the burden of proof is on the plaintiff. If a plaintiff slips and falls on an icy surface and neglects to photograph the accident site before being transported to the hospital, then that gives the property owner a chance to clean up the site before the victim can return to take pictures. It does not sound fair at all, but that is the way that burden of proof works in any personal injury case.
When a plaintiff relies on the video surveillance footage of a store to prove their slip and fall case, the plaintiff’s attorney must act quickly and comprehensively to get the footage they need to prove their case. This is why most attorneys recommend that victims initiate their lawsuits as quickly as possible. The sooner the lawsuit gets started, the faster the attorney can reach out to the store and request video evidence. If the victim waits, then the video will be legally erased and no longer available.
While video footage can be compelling in a slip and fall case, it is not as easy to get that footage as people may think. If you are the victim of a slip and fall accident in a retail building, then it is essential that you contact an attorney as soon as possible to get the lawsuit process started. The longer you wait, the more likely it will be that you will not have the video evidence you need on your side.