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Tort/Negligence – Auto Collision – Surveillance Video Copy – Authentication 

In this case arising out of a deputy sheriff’s U-turn and two successive collisions, the original of a surveillance video from a nearby business was not produced because the video was recorded to a hard drive. A state trooper set up a camera and recorded a copy of the surveillance video, reducing its quality. What is more, the video did not show the actual collisions, only an area near the collisions. Nevertheless, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting the trooper’s copy of the video into evidence. 

We affirm judgment for the defendant-sheriff. 

The trooper testified that business owner Matthew Cagle told him there was no way to get the data off the hard drive and he used a camcorder to record the surveillance footage because he realized the evidence could be lost. 

Plaintiff did not argue the original was not lost or that defendant lost the original. Plaintiff also did not argue the video was not a copy of the original, just that the video is fast-forwarded to the time of the collisions, does not show the collisions, and the quality is low. 

The trial court found the video complied with Rules 1001 to 1004, SCRE, because (1) the video recorded by the trooper was a duplicate of the images shown on the original surveillance video, (2) there was no genuine question raised as to the authenticity of the original video, and (3) the original video was never in the possession of defendant and is no longer available for reasons fully explained at trial (the surveillance system records over old video after several months). The evidence supports this conclusion; thus, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by admitting the video. 

Plaintiff argues the video was not relevant and was prejudicial to her because the video’s time stamp begins 20 minutes after the collisions occurred and does not show either of the collisions at issue. Plaintiff asserts this unresolved time discrepancy bars authentication of the original video. She asserts Cagle had no training relevant to surveillance systems, four of his system cameras did not work at the time of the wreck, and eight of the cameras did not work at the time of the trial, yet he testified his system worked well. 

Thus, plaintiff argues Cagle’s testimony is not adequate to authenticate the original video’s accuracy. She also asserts the trooper could not authenticate the video because he lacked personal knowledge and could not testify the surveillance equipment kept reliable, accurate time. 

Although the time stamp of the video begins 20 minutes after the collisions occurred, Cagle testified the system is reliable and the date and time stamp was accurate. He also testified the video was a recording of what played on his surveillance monitor and that no alteration of the video occurred between the time of the accident and the time the trooper recorded it with his camcorder. 

Rule 901(b)(1), SCRE, provides that authentication may be made by “[t]estimony that a matter is what it is claimed to be.” A witness need not be an expert, but should have experience with the electronic monitoring system used and provide testimony describing the system. The trooper testified the video was a true and accurate representation of what he recorded on his camcorder when he went to Cagle’s business. Thus, we find Cagle and the trooper’s testimony was sufficient to authenticate the video, and the court did not err in admitting it into evidence at trial. 

Plaintiff argues the video is of such poor quality that its probative value is extremely low. She further asserts its probative value is far outweighed by its unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, and tendency to mislead the jury because it is silent, in black and white, and does not depict either of the collisions at issue. 

Plaintiff argues the full effect of the unfair prejudice caused by the video is shown in the jury’s finding that the deputy Holmes was not negligent in making his left U-turn, on an unlit and very dark stretch of road at night, without a siren, without overhead flashing lights or even a turn signal, and when there were at least three other vehicles following close behind him. Further, she argues it is undisputed that the collisions were only seconds apart, but the video was used to convince the jury that there was a longer time between impacts, so as to place liability on plaintiff. 

The relevant incidents were the two collisions, and the video captured the events that occurred relative to the time of the two collisions and were re-recorded in real time. Although the video does not show the actual impact of the collisions, the evidence supports the trial court’s conclusion that the video was relevant evidence because it provided information as to the position of the vehicles, the timing of the collisions at issue, the roadway conditions, and whether the motorists had their lights on. Thus, there was no abuse of discretion. 


Watts v. Chastain (Lawyers Weekly No. 011-070-22, 11 pp.) (Paula Thomas, J.) Appealed from Laurens County Circuit Court (Donald Hocker, J.) Thomas Thompson for appellant; Carly Davis and Russell Harter for respondents. S.C. App. 

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