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Court Holds Judges Should Watch Video Evidence Before Ruling on Its Admissibility

Earlier this month, the state’s high court issued a written opinion in a Texas workplace injury case requiring the court to determine whether the trial court was acting within its discretion when it precluded video evidence without actually viewing the video. Ultimately, the court concluded that “except in rare circumstances,” a court must observe a video before determining if it should be admitted into evidence.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was a senior mechanic on an offshore drilling rig. One day while at work, the plaintiff injured his back. The plaintiff underwent two back surgeries within 13 months, but the pain remained. He was never able to return to work. The plaintiff’s physician determined the plaintiff was “totally disabled.”

The plaintiff filed a workplace injury claim under the Jones Act, claiming that his employer was negligent and that the drilling rig was not seaworthy. After the case was filed, the plaintiff underwent a functional capacity evaluation (FCE) to determine his physical abilities. The results of the FCE indicated that the plaintiff’s responses were consistent with someone who was exaggerating their symptoms.

Armed with this knowledge, the plaintiff’s employer hired someone to record the plaintiff. The video was not viewed by the trial court, but the contents were summarized to the court by the plaintiff’s employer. Essentially, the video showed the plaintiff operating an excavator, clearing debris, and loading a large tire onto his truck.

The plaintiff sought to keep the video out of evidence, citing Texas Rule of Evidence 403. The plaintiff claimed that the video was not truly representative of his injuries because it “shows nothing of his life inside his home, the copious amounts of pain medication he must take to be able to perform these activities, or the price he has paid through the pain suffered in the subsequent hours and days.” The plaintiff’s position was that the video was more prejudicial than it was probative of the ultimate fact the jury needed to resolve.

The trial court kept the video out of evidence without viewing it, and the defendant employer appealed. On appeal, the court reversed the lower court’s decision, holding that, absent extraordinary circumstances, a court should review a video before determining its admissibility.

The Court’s Decision

The court began its analysis by noting that a trial court has broad discretion when determining which evidence is admissible, but that discretion is not without limit. Here, the court held, it was improper for the court to preclude the video from being entered into evidence without reviewing it. The court explained that the video contained relevant evidence that potentially contradicted the plaintiff’s testimony on an issue that was central to the case. Without having viewed the video, the court was not in a position to conduct the necessary analysis under Rule 403. The high court then reviewed the video and determined that it should not have been precluded under a Rule 403 analysis.

Have You Been Injured in a Texas Workplace Accident?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured in a construction accident, you should consult with a dedicated San Antonio personal injury attorney. It may be that you are entitled to substantial compensation for your injuries. At Carabin Shaw, we represent victims in a wide range of Texas personal injury and workplace injury claims. We aggressively pursue fair settlement offers on our clients’ behalf, and when the defense is unwilling to settle, we will not hesitate to take your case to trial. Call 1-800-862-1260 to schedule your free consultation with an attorney today.

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