How to Obtain Traffic Camera Video of Your Car Accident

February 21, 2023
How to Obtain Traffic Camera Video of Your Car Accident

Traffic cameras, video surveillance cameras from businesses, doorbell and residential surveillance footage can be powerful when proving liability in a car accident case. These examples of evidence offer a judge or jury the opportunity to see the accident as it occurred rather than relying solely on the often-inaccurate recollections of eyewitnesses and the parties involved in the case.

However, to use this footage, you must first know whether it exists and how to obtain it. The timing of obtaining this footage is crucial, as many types of surveillance footage are only kept for a short time. Often the process of obtaining it requires a Freedom of Information Act request.

An experienced personal injury lawyer understands the value of having video footage when attempting to prove liability for a claim, and they know the process involved. Here is a look at how attorneys help clients obtain a traffic camera video after a car accident.

What Do Traffic Cameras Capture, and How Can I Use Them in My Case?

How To Obtain Traffic Camera Video of Your Car Accident

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), nearly 350 U.S. communities have cameras trained on intersections to catch those running red lights. Additionally, more than 150 communities use traffic cameras to detect speeding drivers. It is little wonder, as failure to yield (running a red light or stop sign) is responsible for around 139,000 injuries in car accidents each year, and around one-quarter of all fatal traffic accidents involve speeding.

How Traffic Cameras Work

When a vehicle travels past the stop bar after a light has turned red, a red light camera will detect the motion and take two images of the license plate as the vehicle travels through the intersection. The camera is positioned on the side of the road facing the intersection, and there are generally warning signs that a traffic camera is in use. Speed cameras work by taking a photo of a vehicle’s license plate if it is traveling at least 10 miles over the posted speed limit.

What Makes Traffic Camera Footage Useful in a Car Accident Case?

When a car accident occurs where there are no traffic or other surveillance cameras, there are frequent disputes regarding fault. It often comes down to the testimony of the parties involved, eyewitnesses who saw the accident happen, and evidence from the scene, such as skid marks and how the vehicles were damaged.

However, if there is video footage available, those making decisions about liability and compensation—including insurance adjusters, judges, and juries—can often witness the events as they occurred.

Traffic camera footage does have limitations, however. The camera is trained on the license plate of a vehicle that has run a red light or is speeding. Unfortunately, this function means it won’t necessarily capture all of the events leading up to the accident. Some cases may depend on further evidence, information, or recordings to show the actual collision.

Despite this, if a traffic camera caught a driver running a red light in the time immediately preceding a broadside (t-bone) collision in the right-of-way, it can go a long way toward proving fault.

There are three elements needed to prove that someone was at fault for an accident:

  • Duty. A car accident claimant must be able to show that the at-fault party was using a public roadway and, because of that use, had a duty to take reasonable actions to avoid causing harm to other roadway users. Traffic camera footage that has recorded the driver’s license plate proves that they were using a public roadway when the accident occurred. Reasonable actions when it comes to car accident claims refers to the driver’s responsibility to keep the vehicle they use in good running order, properly insured, and in adherence with all local and state traffic laws.
  • Breach. The claimant must be able to show that they breached the duty of care owed to other users of the roadway. Common breaches in the duty of care that can result in car accidents include failure to yield the right-of-way, speeding, distracted driving, fatigued driving, improper passing, and more. Traffic camera footage is particularly useful in claims involving an accident resulting from failure to yield or speeding.
  • Cause. The claimant must show that the at-fault party’s breach in the duty of care resulted in a car accident in which they sustained injuries and property damage. This element is where traffic camera footage is particularly useful. In some cases, it can reveal the actions of the at-fault driver immediately preceding the accident.

How to Request Traffic Camera Footage From a Municipal Law Enforcement Agency

To obtain footage from a municipal law enforcement agency’s traffic camera, you must make a Freedom of Information Act request. The responsible agency must receive the request. Each agency has its process for receiving and reviewing these requests, with some requiring that requesters fill out a specific stock form, while others offer online portals.

When making the request, the claimant (or, better yet, their attorney) must provide their name, contact information, and mailing address. They will also need to provide a detailed description of the public records that they’re seeking.

What Is FOIA, and How Does It Impact My Ability to Obtain Video Footage?

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a federal law that gives the public the right to obtain information held by a government agency. States also have public information laws, though they may call them by different names, like Sunshine Laws.

Agencies are required to disclose that information in most circumstances unless the information that is requested falls under one of nine exemptions that include:

  1. The protection of information must be kept secret as a matter of national defense or foreign policy.
  2. The protection of information related solely to an agency’s internal personnel rules or policies.
  3. The protection of information that is exempted from disclosure by another law.
  4. The protection of trade secrets and commercial or financial information obtained from outside the government that is privileged or confidential.
  5. The protection of certain records exchanged between agencies that involve attorney work-product privilege or attorney-client privilege.
  6. The protection of information about individuals in personnel or medical files that—if released—would constitute an invasion of privacy.
  7. The protection of information held by law enforcement agencies when the release of the information could be reasonably expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings, deprive a person of the right to a fair trial, could be considered an invasion of privacy or could endanger the life of someone else.
  8. The protection of information related to the examination, operating, or condition reports prepared by or on behalf of an agency responsible for regulating a financial institution.
  9. The protection of geological or geophysical information or data.

The Problems With Seeking Traffic Camera Footage of a Car Accident On Your Own

Individuals who attempt to obtain traffic camera footage without the assistance of an experienced attorney often find themselves overwhelmed by the process and their efforts unsuccessful.

Some of the issues that can arise when requesting traffic camera footage include the following:

  • Difficulty determining which agency to make the request to. Traffic cameras can be owned by municipal police departments or the state police department. Some camera footage that can be useful in a personal injury claim can even be held by a third party.
  • Having the agency deny the request and attempting to understand the legal reasons why that request was denied.
  • Providing the necessary details about the accident so the agency can find the footage quickly.
  • Failing to make the request promptly. Law enforcement agencies are only required to hold on to traffic camera footage for a matter of days unless someone requests that they preserve the footage.

An Attorney Can Get the Footage You Need to Prove Your Claim

Speaking with an experienced car accident attorney as soon as possible after your accident is important in obtaining the evidence needed to prove your claim, such as traffic camera footage. It is also important to tell the attorney who you hire to assist you with your claim if you believe there was video footage of the accident available, either through the presence of a traffic camera or video surveillance cameras in the area.

An attorney knows you have days to weeks to obtain traffic camera footage before it is erased or overwritten. They will generally take quick action to preserve this footage by sending a spoliation letter—also commonly referred to as a preservation of evidence letter—to the agency in question.

A spoliation letter requests that evidence related to the accident be preserved for use if the case goes to trial. The letter must include the accident’s date, approximate time, and location. It must also demand that the evidence be preserved in anticipation of litigation. Spoliation letters are generally sent by certified mail so that the claimant and their attorney can be sure that it is received.

What About Video Footage From Nearby Businesses or Residents?

Requests can also be made to private businesses or residents who captured the accident using surveillance cameras. This video footage can also be important evidence, as it likely shows more of the accident than the traffic cameras angling to capture the license plates of those running red lights or speeding.

While a FOIA request is inappropriate when requesting footage from private citizens and companies, a spoliation letter can be sent to these parties. Your attorney can also subpoena these individuals or business owners.

Other Types of Information That Can Help Your Claim

While a car accident claimant’s legal team is skilled at obtaining the evidence and documentation needed to prove their client’s claim, the claimant can also gather information to assist in the process.

Some of this information includes:

  • A copy of the crash report. Most states require that local police departments investigate accidents resulting in injuries. The investigating officer is then required to prepare a crash report and make it available to the parties involved in the accident, their insurers, and their attorneys.
  • Your employment information. Personal injury claims involve compensation for medical expenses and wage loss associated with the injury. When calculating the value of your claim, your attorney will need to know how much you make an hour, how much time you lost from work due to your injury, and whether your injury is permanent and impairs your ability to continue working.
  • Journals of your appointments, treatments, and the effects of the injury on your quality of life. You can also seek compensation for the psychological impacts you incurred due to someone else’s negligence.

Medical bills, car repair bills, and other documentation of your incurred costs due to the accident.

The Dolman Law Group Can Help

Traffic camera footage of your car accident may be what is between you and reaching a settlement or winning a suit. A lawyer can help you gather evidence and obtain traffic camera video of your car accident. Contact a car accident lawyer at the Dolman Law Group for a consultation today.