Tennessee Appeals Court Weighs Evidence of Surveillance Video in Premises Liability Case

In a premises liability lawsuit, individuals who are injured on the property of another person or business may be compensated if they can prove the property owner was negligent.  The Court of Appeals of Tennessee recently reviewed a case involving this issue in Woodgett v. Vaughan (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 13, 2016).  In Woodgett, the plaintiff filed suit against the defendant homeowners after she fell and sustained injuries while viewing their home as a prospective buyer.  After a trial, the jury found in favor of the defendants.  The plaintiff appealed, arguing that the trial court erred in allowing the jury to see a surveillance video recorded by the defendants’ private investigator.

In Woodgett, the plaintiff viewed the defendants’ house without the listing realtor or the defendants present.  Below the attic doorway was a large landing and a wooden box that was used as a step to access the landing.  The box step was constructed out of wood planks and covered in carpet, and it was not fastened to the landing itself.  The plaintiff alleged that when she attempted to go down on the step, it gave way and caused her to fall.  The plaintiff testified that after the fall, she suffered injuries and a limp that made everyday activities difficult, including walking, standing, bending, using stairs, and otherwise being active.

The defendants retained a private investigator to observe and record the plaintiff during her daily activities outside her home.  At trial, the defendants sought to introduce the surveillance videos into evidence.  The plaintiff objected, arguing that the videos were irrelevant and unduly prejudicial and held her out as a person of means by driving a Cadillac Escalade and several other cars and shopping.  The defendants contended that the videos were probative because they showed the plaintiff walking in heels, standing, and getting in and out of motor vehicles without difficulty.

Generally, evidence is deemed relevant if it has any tendency to make the existence of any material fact of consequence more or less probable than without the evidence.  However, the court has the discretion to exclude even relevant evidence on the basis of several legal principles, such as when the probative value of the evidence is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice.  Evidence may be unfairly prejudicial if it tends to lead to a decision made on an improper basis, commonly, although not necessarily, an emotional one.

On appeal, the court concluded that, given the plaintiff’s testimony regarding her physical limitations, the video evidence of her walking in heels and performing daily activities without limping was relevant to the issues at trial.  Furthermore, the court found that the danger of unfair prejudice, if any, did not substantially outweigh the probative value of the video.  Ruling that the video was not admitted in error, the appeals court went on to affirm the jury’s verdict.

The capable attorneys at MHPS provide experienced legal representation to injured plaintiffs in Nashville and beyond.  We handle a variety of negligence and personal injury cases, such as automobile collisions, premises liability claims, wrongful death, and other accidents.  If you would like to discuss your legal options with one of our knowledgeable lawyers, contact our office at (615) 800-7096 or online and schedule a consultation.

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