From the April 2009 issue of Claims Magazine • Subscribe!

Speaking Of: Video Depositions

Dennis Costello and his team at Second Chair Software have been working with insurance carriers to obtain video depositions of witnesses in litigation so that claim personnel can evaluate witnesses from their desktops. As Costello explains to Claims' Christina Bramlet, this creates a more cohesive partnership between claims and defense attorneys, the result of which is greater control of case strategies and discovery expenses.

What was the catalyst for developing this offering?

Litigation is expensive. It costs the insurance industry $35 billion per year. Expenses related to depositions account for 35 percent of total litigation costs, meaning that the industry spends between $10 billion and $15 billion yearly. Most cases require an average of two-to-four years to resolve, with 90-95 percent being settled, and the average paid loss continues to grow with time.

The fact is that few depositions are read by claim personnel, and even fewer are attended. Therefore, liability evaluations are based on paper files instead of evaluating the actual human factor. As a result, the claim department is not aware of witness behavior and how they would appear to a jury. There is limited visibility of a discovery plan, and the discovery expense lacks prioritization.

It is evident that plaintiff attorneys' use of advanced trial technology -- video, for example -- far exceeds that of defense attorneys. This puts insurers at a competitive disadvantage.

What are some alternatives to video depositions?

The alternative would be to attend the actual deposition, which is both cost and time prohibitive. The value of video is providing claim professionals and attorneys with a method of effectively evaluating the impact of a witness. The capability to videotape depositions has been available for years. Until now, the tools available to view and search specific data in these videos has been very limited. A CD containing the entire deposition, which could last anywhere from four-to-eight hours, would arrive for the claim representative or the attorney to review. Without the tools to search for and view the important points, the claim representative would have to trudge through an entire deposition.

Describe the overall impact on the claim process.

Video depositions won't necessarily reduce the time spent processing a file. However, it will make the time more productive. Less time will be required to consolidate a complete picture of the discovery schedule. On average, claim professionals should be able to make settlement decisions sooner, and defense attorneys can place greater emphasis on completing discovery more quickly. A file's average shelf life should shorten significantly.

Other potential benefits include lowering allocated expenses through better legal process control and a reduction in the average paid losses from accurate evaluation of witnesses.

How does the service work? Does it require special software?

With its software-as-a-service platform, Second Chair is designed to be easily implemented. This minimizes start-up costs because there is no IT footprint, new hardware/software, or maintenance programs to be adopted. All access is granted via the Internet. Its point-and-click capabilities facilitate quick access to critical information, such as questions and responses highlighted by attorneys. Users can conduct searches by deposition and use calendaring capabilities to accelerate discovery process.

The entire electronic deposition can be viewed in several ways. For instance, we strip out all of the questions in the deposition and put them in a list so the claim professional can scroll down the online list, selecting only the essential questions. Selecting each pertinent question directs the user to the actual text deposition or plays the answer in a video clip. The defense attorney can also designate the most crucial questions for the claim representative to review.

So is it always appropriate to use video?

Although we emphasize and encourage the use of video, we do not suggest that video be used on all depositions. One key way to lower expenses using Second Chair is through our discovery calendar and collaboration tools. These resources allow the claim department to gain greater control of the case strategy and discovery expenses.

Video is used selectively on high-impact witnesses. The remaining depositions are text-based but the Second Chair service provides the previously unavailable capability to manage both the video and text-based depositions because of its cross-media platform that integrates video, audio, and text.

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