Victory in Traffic Court, Thanks To High Resolution Dash Cam Accident Video!
Wednesday, May 25 2011 @ 05:51 PM UTC
Contributed by: Don Winner
Get There On Time: If you are involved in a traffic accident in Panama City, the cop will fill out the paperwork and then hand you a notice to appear in court. In my case the accident occurred on 10 May, and the court date was 25 May (today), just two weeks later. When the traffic cop writes "Juan Diaz" on your notice to appear the court is located in the Los Pueblos shopping center, behind the Conway store. My court date was set for 9:00 am, and I got there on time and handed in the slip and my license. Then I waited for almost an hour and they called me at 9:55 to talk to the judge. The other driver, the taxi driver who ran the red light, had not showed up. The judge said no problem, we would proceed without him. Lesson number one - if you're not there you can't defend yourself or present your side of the story. Leave enough time to drive all the way out to Los Pueblos and to get there with time to spare. Don't be late or you will miss the hearing (and lose).
The Judge Loved The Video: When I waiting for my hearing, I saw all kinds of people playing with their cell phones. Many people are now using their cell phones to document traffic accidents and the judge sees this kind of "after the accident occurred" footage all the time. When I told him I had a video of the accident he was not awake yet, and he simply said "sure, let's see it." When I explained that I had a high resolution dash cam video of the accident as it occurred then he got really excited, because that's something he never gets to see. I had also made several freeze frames and screen snaps from the video and annotated them with arrows and time hacks. Like "see, right here at 1:00 you can see that the light had turned green in my favor..." and several others. I also had the still images taken at the scene with my digital SLR showing how I had tried to brake to avoid the accident but skidded on the dirt and gravel in the intersection.
"This Makes My Job Easy" The judge said "this is fantastic, I can clearly see how you had the green light in your favor, how the taxi driver ran the red light and was in the intersection when he should not have been there, that he broke the law and intercepted your lane of travel and caused the accident. I am deciding this case in your favor and against the cab driver. This video camera is wonderful. I wish everyone had one, because it would certainly make my job a whole lot easier." He watched the video several times, running back over a couple of sections, like where the light changed from red to green in my favor, and comparing the video to the stills and screen snaps. Once his mind was made up, the hearing was over and I went back out front to wait for the paperwork to be ready.
The Secretaries Loved The Video, Too: I was playing it on my laptop computer, and I invited the two women who handle the paperwork to watch the video as well. Pretty soon a crowd had formed and everyone in the office checked it out. They all said "that's great" and "nothing could beat that." The judge even came back out to the front office and said this video is even better than what the police can provide with their pole top surveillance cameras. With that, I sat there waiting for the paperwork to be done in order to sign and be gone.
The Taxi Driver Showed Up: As normal for the Panamanian culture, the severely pissed off taxi driver wandered in at 10:15 am, and even though he was an hour and fifteen minutes late for the hearing, he could not believe that the judge had already decided the case, the paperwork was done, he had lost, and that he had to pay a $50 fine as well as the damages to my car. He started raising his voice and shouting at me (I told him to "tell it to the judge" and basically ignored him.) He kept bitching and complaining and yelling, as if that was going to change anything. The secretaries - still impressed by the video and not so impressed by this late and pissed off taxi driver - simply said "sign here" and pushed the paperwork towards him. The taxi driver ended up calling everyone in the office corrupt, and the Chief Secretary in Charge told him to shut the fuck up and get out, or else she would call the police and have him arrested. He stomped off, marching in the direction of the Director's office to vent his spleen. Har. High res video camera 1 - pissed off red light running taxi driver 0.
Doing The Happy Dance: Everyone should have one of these cameras running, all of the time. I have mine set to record the last 30 minutes of driving time, then it loops over. The camera actually records short one minute long videos, complete with the audio in the car. I had to stitch two files together to make the video of the accident, and if you look closely the "seam" is right at about the 1:00 minute mark. Anyway, I can say without a doubt I won this case because of the video. Most importantly, by winning the case I don't have to pay a fine or repair the other guy's car (the damage to my car was minimal.) If it wasn't for the video, it would have been just another case of the gringo vs. the Panamanian, and you know how those things tend to turn out. Buy one of these cameras. Eventually, you'll be very glad you did. And now, I would like to close out this article with the mental image of me doing Matt's "happy dance" around the office...
Copyright 2011 by Don Winner for Panama-Guide.com. Go ahead and use whatever you like as long as you credit the source. Salud.