Day-in-the-Life Films: Admissibility & Other Issues
A well-crafted and produced “day in the life” film can be a very effective mechanism to communicate your client’s daily limitations and ongoing struggles to a jury. As a personal injury lawyer from a firm like the Law Offices of Ryan Quinn can explain, these films can also serve as illustrations of the expert testimony that will be presented to the jury. They fill evidentiary gaps, showing the plaintiff going through his or her typical day and showing the jury the constant care needed and the struggles, tedium and frustration of performing simple, routine activities.
Generally, assuming proper foundation has been laid, courts have found such films admissible in various types of cases, including:
- Personal injury actions, see, e.g., Grimes v. Employers Mutual Liability Insurance Co., 73 F.R.D. 607 (D. Alaska 1977) ( in personal injury action arising from an industrial accident. Plaintiff allowed to use day-in-the-life film to portray nature and extent of damages)
- Medical malpractice actions, see, e.g., Pisel v. Stamford Hospital, 423 N.Y.S.2d 694 (1979) (medical malpractice case in which film was admitted to show decedent in her daily routine as a patient in the hospital)
- Product liability actions, see, e.g., Capara v. Chrysler Corp., 423 N.Y.S.2d 694 (1979) (products liability case in which film was admitted to illustrate injuries suffered by quadriplegic in auto collision).
Often, the primary battleground for admissibility lies in establishing the necessary foundation and authentication. Laying a proper foundation is somewhat straightforward: The video’s relevance to the case is typically quite clear, as it has significant evidentiary value in demonstrating to the jury the plaintiff’s pain and suffering, deprivation of enjoyment of life, and the extent of their injuries.
Authentication is somewhat tricker, as the proponent should generally be prepared to adduce the following through the testimony of an uninterested witness present during the filming: A) Identities of all persons involved in production of the video; B) Testimony that the film accurately represents that which proponent is attempting to portray; C) The film demonstrates events in a typical day in plaintiff’s life; D) That the amount of staging and rehearsal was relatively minimal.
Plaintiff’s counsel is advised to ensure that defense counsel has the opportunity to view the entire film prior to trial to demonstrate good faith and nullify any unfair surprise arguments.
Allowing the defense to view the film completely well in advance of trial allows the parties to resolve any evidentiary issues via motions in limine prior to the trial date. That way, any prejudicial matter can be deleted before trial.