Smartphones and Car Accidents

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.

Jury Trials

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.

About Dan Steiner

Dan Steiner
I first got into the web design industry at about 12 years old, when I taught myself basic coding practices, and designed my first (incredibly ugly) website. I’ve been fortunate enough to watch the web design and marketing industry completely change, going from incredibly limited site designs, to complex mobile-friendly interfaces that are now faster and more capable than ever. My first encounter in the legal web and marketing industry was through my old man, who was an IP/Patent attorney. I started Online Virus Repair Inc, where I served as CEO and head of marketing. I have worked alongside some of the brightest search engine marketing minds in the industry, including Brian Dean, Ann Smarty, and many others. Have written for some of the most respected publications online, including The Huffington Post, Inc, Entrepreneur, Forbes, Yahoo, and many others. Have worked with numerous law firms over the years and have brought in millions of dollars’ worth of cases. Have designed and managed over 200 different websites. Extremely talented content marketer. Have published with over 40 different brands, and counting.

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  • Richard Aston

    Informative! Insightful! and brilliant thanks dan.

  • Clay Payne

    A unique perspective from the civil side in tort cases arising from car accidents. The issue concerning the internal evidence from a phone and subsequent conveyance through social outlets would seem to create a problem for a “defendant …. post[ing] about the accident or showing callousness toward the person who was injured during the crash.” However, what ramifications are raised for a defendant who is facing criminal charges concurrent with a civil cause of action. The very social media and the intimate details are contained within cell phones. Riley established a bright-line rule under the Fourth Amendment when it declared that data searches of cell phones – regardless of type – are unlawful incident to arrest. But it would be doubtful Riley’s holding would extend to a plaintiff, crash victim ,or the defendant, driving recklessly. I surmise the emergency doctrine allows the police to engage in conduct that would otherwise violate the Fourth Amendment if they are acting on reasonable belief that doing so is immediately necessary to protect or preserve life or avoid serious injury. My apologies if this is tangential. I just stumbled upon this website and I am fascinated by the technological trends emerging with the case law; your post is quite informative in regards to clients who convey information on Social Media. Thanks!

    *Not a licensed attorney; 3L Law student

  • Heather Argenti

    It’s truly been a Pandora’s box – For matters in the court room but also causing issues out- on the roads, in public places, etc..
    We write about it often!
    https://misnylaw.com/misny-blog/