Social Media Technology Can Help Establish Liability in Accident Cases

A bike ride on the San Francisco peninsula during the 4th of July weekend turned disastrous for New York Times writer John Markoff when he crashed on a downhill at over 30 miles per hour. Paramedics took him to the hospital, where he found that he had a 20-minute gap in his memory surrounding the crash. He could not remember the circumstances of the crash at all, despite physical evidence such as road rash on his hands and a deep skid mark on his helmet.

Markoff relates the story of Ryan Sabga, a bike racer, who was hit by a car in Denver in 2010. The driver of the car claimed she did not think she had hit him, and police concluded that there was not enough evidence to issue a citation to the driver. Sabga was able to use data from the GPS device to establish where he was at the time of the accident, and to demonstrate exactly how the car hit him (including a spike in his heart rate at the moment of impact). Although police still did not want to pursue the case, this evidence was enough to get the driver’s insurance company to accept responsibility.

Markoff similarly used his GPS device to reconstruct his bike ride and figure out what had happened to him. Both Sabga and Markoff used a Garmin GPS device that recorded location, speed, and other information, and allowed the option of uploading data to a web service where it could be shared with other users.

Forbes columnist Kashmir Hill notes that an increasing number of people use devices like a Garmin GPS to record data about their daily lives and often share that information through social media. Widespread use of such technology is often known as “the Quantified Self” or “self-tracking.” While such recording and sharing can serve any number of useful purposes such as allowing support for fitness plans or tracking health conditions, it can also be useful for accident victims. This applies to accident victims who may use their own data, much like Markoff and Sabga, to determine what happened, or to those who may obtain data from another party to establish liability or challenge a conflicting description of an accident.

Social media information is the subject of a growing number of discovery requests in litigation. Courts, while often slow to adapt to new and quickly-changing technologies, are beginning to understand the importance and ubiquity of social media, and are allowing discovery of personal social media information that is relevant to the case at hand. Data collected by “self-tracking” technologies, particularly those shared on popular social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, are undoubtedly relevant in establishing the circumstances of an accident. This information can cut both ways. Information that could prove liability in a personal injury matter could also disprove a claimant’s account and clear a defendant of liability. Either way, this segment of social media technology, when used by people involved in accidents, is an invaluable fact-finding tool.

Our Washington, DC personal injury lawyers understand the importance of establishing liability in cases of injury in bicycle or automobile accidents. Contact an attorney today for a free consultation.

Bike Crash Wiped Details; GPS Data Filled Them In, New York Times, September 5, 2011
How Self-Tracking Can Kick In After An Accident, Forbes, September 7, 2011
Adventures in Self-Surveillance, aka The Quantified Self, aka Extreme Navel-Gazing, Forbes, April 7, 2011

Web Resources:

Electronic Discovery and Social Networking Sites, The Bencher, Nov./Dec. 2010
TORT REPORT: Litigation concerns in the information age, Wisconsin Law Journal, September 9, 2011
Getting It In: The Admissibility of Electronically Stored Information in Employment Litigation (PDF), The Impact Fund

More Blog Posts:

Up to 25% of US Car Crashes Caused by Distracted Driving and Gadget Use, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, July 12, 2011
Preventing Maryland Car Crashes: State Senate Approves Ban on Reading Text Messages While Driving, Maryland Accident Law Blog, March 9, 2011
Washington DC Stays Vigilant in Fight to Prevent Distracted Driving Accidents, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, June 19, 2010

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