A Video Settlement Documentary
Using video only for depositions is like using
a computer only as a calculator. Most lawsuits filed never go to trial, they
will settle out of court during the discovery phase or in plea bargaining
prior to trial. This is the time to take full advantage of the power of
Usually presented by the plaintiff in a
wrongful death or personal injury case, a Video Settlement Brochure or Video
Settlement Documentary is a concise summation of the case. Note that a
personal injury documentary will emphasize continued living difficulties for
the injured and their family, while a wrongful death settlement documentary
will focus on the impact the death has had on the survivors.
When done well, a Video Settlement Documentary
can provide a clear, comprehensive presentation of medical reports, product
demonstrations, accident scenes and condition of the plaintiff or the
Unlike a Day-in the-Life Video, a Video
Settlement Documentary is not prepared to be presented in a court of law as
evidence. The objective is to get the defense and insurance company to
fully comprehend the pain and suffering that has resulted from their
negligence, malpractice, or product liability. It is produced
specifically to show the strength of the case and impress upon the defense, in
pretrial hearings or mediation, that there isn’t a chance to win the case if
it goes to trial.
Under some circumstances, defense can also
make creative use of their own Video Settlement Documentary. If there is
information or strategy that can shut the case down, video may be the best way
to get that story across.
All the disadvantages of a written settlement
brochure and tedious discovery depositions can be alleviated with a
professionally produced, well-edited Video Settlement Documentary.
The Video Settlement Documentary is uniquely
well-adapted to the demonstration of non-economic damages such as pain and
suffering, mental anguish, and human tragedy. It also makes it easy to
demonstrate the loss of employment, the loss to family and society and the
need for future care and medical needs. It reduces the necessity of
lengthy written explanations yet still makes it clear to insurance adjusters
why they shouldn’t go to trial.
A simple written
settlement brochure alone lacks the emotion of the case. It can be
browsed quickly and an insurance adjuster or counsel going through it at their
desk is subject to various interruptions which can dilute their response to
A Video Settlement Documentary that clearly
and powerfully outlines the liability, the hurt, the emotion, and the
devastation felt by the plaintiff and their family can carry so much emotional
firepower that the opposing attorney becomes quite enthusiastic about a quick
settlement. Sometimes, a Video Settlement Documentary can even be
presented before a suit has been filed, especially in a case where liability
is very clear.
While a Video Settlement Documentary will not
necessarily turn a bad case into a winner, it certainly can make a reasonable
case more persuasive. More often than not, a Video Settlement
Documentary gets the point across so strongly that out-of-court settlements
are the rule rather than the exception. Their use can save everyone time
and therefore wasted money in drawn out proceedings.
In personal injury cases, in the event that an
out-of-court settlement is not agreed on, the video footage of the plaintiff
can usually be reedited in order to produce an effective Day-in-the-Life Video
for use in trial.
A finalized Video Settlement Documentary
varies in length but, typically resembles a television news documentary and
runs 10-20 minutes. The attorney decides what information is best to
present for settlement leverage and should determine the direction and
emphasis of the tape, (liability and damages, damages only, liability only).
Depending on the direction set forth by the
attorney, using scripted, edited segments, the Video Settlement Documentary
introduces the viewer to the life of the plaintiff and the plaintiff’s family
before and after the accident or negligence. By showing how the
plaintiff, family members and friends are affected by the death or injury, the
video establishes dependency, loss and the life-changing impact resulting from
the negligence. It also presents to the defense what kind of witnesses
the jury will be hearing should the case go to trial. The Documentary
Video or photos from the scene of the
Computer graphic animations showing how the
Interviews with a physician showing x-rays
and/or anatomical models to quickly and clearly explain the nature of the
injury or damage.
Interviews with experts such as a life
economist to make monetary losses clear.
Existing news footage or TV coverage from the
Newspaper still photos.
Personal clippings from scrapbooks.
Existing home movies/videos of the plaintiff
and family in their healthy, pre-injured state.
Video of personal projects, trophies and/or
Video of the plaintiff’s daily life
Interviews with family members, friends and
These pieces can be enhanced and segued
together with background music, professional narration and family/friend
voice-overs. In trial, emotional displays, insinuations, accusations, leading
witnesses or playing on the sympathies of the jury would never be allowed but,
since a Video Settlement Documentary is not actually used in court or seen by
a jury, many persuasive, useful things that would not be allowed in a
courtroom are fair game.
The first step is to hire an experienced
professional legal video producer. There are enormous differences
between shooting a deposition and putting together a persuasive Video
Settlement Documentary. Since it incorporates pieces from so many
different sources, a Video Settlement Documentary requires the background and
equipment of a full service video production company and video producer.
An experienced legal video producer is
an expert storyteller, and when presented with a general outline of the facts
of the case in an ordered manner, can create a very moving statement.
In many cases, the
attorney for the insurance company has seen hundreds of Video Settlement
Documentaries, so the skill and the production experience of the video company
Next, determine your deadlines and go over
these with the video producer. It is good to have the finished product
at least 2-4 weeks before a pretrial hearing. Some suggest to have the
Video Settlement Documentary be viewed by the defense attorney and
insurance adjuster well in advance of the hearing so they will have an idea of
the amount of money the plaintiff is asking for and can send a representative
with enough authority to negotiate a settlement.
An additional strategy is to arrange a time
and place for the viewing. If the video is simply tendered, it may be
viewed many, many times which tends to lessen its impact. Further,
unless you control the replay, there may be interruptive phone calls so that
the viewing will be disjointed.
A pre-production meeting with the video
producer is important to explain the strategy and determine the potential
pieces to be compiled. Gather whatever existing pieces you can for the
video producer and then coordinate the interviews with the plaintiff, family
members, friends and coworkers. Encourage them to gather their photos,
home videos, awards and pertinent memorabilia to be included in the
presentation. Family members and friends interviewed on camera in a home
setting may be more relaxed and emotionally open than they would be in an
Remember that, tact and respect are of the
utmost importance while getting these people to discuss such a difficult
topic. At the interviews, you may want to prompt witnesses with leading
questions. You should sit close to the camera so the witness appears to
be addressing the viewer of the video and not an interviewer. The
witness needs to respond to questions or prompts in complete statements
because only the responses are used in the finished video. Let the
witness talk freely about their loss and experience. Even pauses when
the witness stops to think or hesitates in mid-sentence can be more powerful
than what they actually say. Don’t be too concerned if they wander a
bit, their segment can be edited to keep the story on track. Be sure to
include interviews with physicians, economists, and any other relevant experts
who can attest to the various aspects of the loss. A before and after
portrait of the plaintiff is being constructed. Many materials can be
When interviews are complete and all the
information to be presented has been gathered, the video producer will create
a storyboard that shows what words will be heard with what pictures or
The video producer knows how to make the best
use of the grimace on the face of an accident victim struggling through
physical therapy or the tear rolling down the cheek of a child who lost a
mother to medical malpractice. These are the images that tell the true
story of suffering. Once you have gone over the storyboard and approved
it with the video producer, post-production begins and the documentary is
edited together piece by piece or even frame by frame. A twenty minute
program contains over 36,000 frames of video. The inclusion of each
frame must be a conscious decision. The video and audio are compiled in
sequence, with each part being evaluated for suitability.
Post-production is the mechanical and creative process that brings together
all existing video, audio, still photography, narration, and computer graphics
into a finished video product. It is the crucial piece to the outcome of
From initial post-production comes a “first
draft”, or an “approval copy”. View the approval copy and have others view it
to get their “first time” reactions. Get their feedback. Is it a good
distillation of what the case is all about? Is it clear and concise? What do
they like or dislike about the video? Does it hold their attention? Could
anything be added or removed to make it more persuasive? The video may need
to be edited two or three times before it captures exactly what is desired.
Try to view each revision as if it is your first time watching it. If you are
using the same people to help you evaluate it, remind them also to view it as
if it is their first time.
By the time a professional
Video Settlement Documentary is produced, the cost can easily run between $500
and $2,000 per finished minute, although very simple, effective, settlement
documentaries can be produced for as little as $3,000-$5,000 for the total
budget. Post production will constitute the majority of the cost as it
can consist of script writing, editing, professional voice-overs, background
music, computer generated reenactments and other creative special effects.
Expect to pay a fee for
consulting when meeting with the video producer but, that is usually included
in the final cost of production if the video is produced. Consider that
a Video Settlement Documentary doesn’t necessarily add to the cost of
litigation, but can in fact, save your client money by getting a higher
settlement and by inducing a prompt settlement that saves months or even years
of litigation time. Do not hesitate to produce a Video Settlement
Documentary that could be a very wise investment to assist in winning your