Today’s drivers are equipped with a valuable tool for documenting an accident. With nearly two-thirds of Americans now owning a smartphone, a camera is almost always at arm’s reach. In the event of an accident, this means drivers can snap photos and even file a claim directly from the accident scene. Prior to the smartphone era, attorneys were forced to rely on accident reports and witness accounts as they put together a case. Using the camera apps embedded in their smartphones, accident victims can now take photos of the other driver, the damage to both cars, and their own injuries mere seconds after the accident takes place. But this constant connectivity can also be as much of a hindrance as a help. With instant Internet access, judges, juries, attorneys, courts, and accident victims have a way to instantly reach the rest of the world, even while a trial is in progress. Here are a few ways mobile adoption is changing the way car accidents are tried in court.
Admissibility of Evidence
The biggest issue attorneys face in trying auto-related legal cases is admissibility. This is especially true if the plaintiff has taken photos of another person without permission. Local laws may affect the admissibility of the photos, although with rare exceptions it is legal to photograph anyone or anything on public property. Video recording someone without consent is a more complicated matter, however, since many states have laws connected to recording audio of someone without permission.
Photos of the accident site can be even more beneficial to the defendant in a personal injury claim. It’s important to capture all of the information necessary to demonstrate fault in the accident, including photos of the intersection, the weather conditions, and any skid marks on the road surrounding the accident. Even one photo could make or break a personal injury case, making its potential worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Social Media Research
Mobile device use has hurt some accident victims in court. In today’s social media-obsessed culture, consumers regularly snap photos of themselves on vacation, out to dinner with friends, and spending time with family. An accident victim claiming personal injury could lose a case solely on one social media post, readily accessible by the defendant’s attorney. A defendant could lose a case based on a post bragging about the accident or showing callousness toward the person who was injured during the crash.
With every message leaving a digital trail, consumers should be aware that anything they put in writing could be used against them. An email or text message to a friend, a post on a friends-only social media page, or any other written commentary that relates to the accident could be used as evidence. This includes admitting fault as well as snapping selfies with a smartphone that could contradict an accident victim’s legal claims.
Almost every juror who serves in a trial today has a smartphone on hand. The judge can order jurors not to conduct independent online research during the trial, but there’s no guarantee that members won’t go online during breaks and after hours. This type of research actually violates a defendant’s Sixth-Amendment rights, since it leads jurors to consider evidence not being presented in court.
Another serious concern for courts is outgoing information from jurors. Sitting on a jury is an interesting event in many people’s lives, leading them to want to share the experience with friends, family, and anyone else who will listen. Jurors can comment on cases in progress on social media and even write a blog detailing every step of the trial. This information can lead a jury members to look prejudiced, while also allowing them to gather opinions from their online followers that might color their decision on the case. To keep juries fully impartial, courts have to find a way to limit their access to social media during the course of a trial, but many of the methods they’ve previously tried have been ineffective.
Smartphones can be an important tool for documenting and reporting an accident in the minutes after it happened. However, it can also get in the way of plaintiffs and defendants getting the justice they’re seeking through the legal system. Courts face a large number of challenges in monitoring and overseeing mobile device use in cases.