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 video. 


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 plaintiff’s family. 


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 the information.  


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 can include:


x  Video or photos from the scene of the accident.

x  Computer graphic animations showing how the accident occurred.

x  Interviews with a physician showing x-rays and/or anatomical models to quickly and clearly explain the nature of the injury or damage.

x  Interviews with experts such as a life economist to make monetary losses clear.

x  Existing news footage or TV coverage from the accident.

x  Newspaper still photos.

x  Personal clippings from scrapbooks.

x  Family photos.

x  Existing home movies/videos of the plaintiff and family in their healthy, pre-injured state.

x  Video of personal projects, trophies and/or awards.

x  Video of the plaintiff’s daily life activities.

x  Interviews with family members, friends and coworkers.


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 is crucial. 


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 office.


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 used.


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 graphics. 


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 the project.


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 client’s case.