Distraction and Discovery – Expect Your Phone to be Evidence
Gregg Hollander | October 30, 2014 | Personal Injury
Distraction behind the wheel causes at least 3,330 deaths each year. Consider that simply reading a text message takes your eyes off the road for five seconds. If you’re traveling at 55-miles-per-hour, you will pass the entire length of a football field without looking at the road. It’s incredibly dangerous.
It’s the reason so many states – including Florida – have passed laws prohibiting texting while driving. Some states also bar talking on the phone, but Florida is not one of those. Of course, there are other distractions: eating, putting on makeup, changing the radio station, etc.
However, few of those other distractions are traceable in the event of a crash. But your cell phone is a veritable trove of information, and can be extremely important in both criminal and civil litigation. It can tell investigators whether you were talking at the time of the crash, whether you were responding to text messages, had an open e-mail search, whether you were posting on social media, taking photographs or searching the web.
Our West Palm Beach trucking accident attorneys know that this information can really make or break a case. It’s become central in the recent case of Antico v. Sindt Trucking, Inc., where plaintiff is widower of a decedent who was killed after a truck collided with her vehicle.
Plaintiff sued, alleging wrongful death by the truck driver and his employer. However, the primary defense appears to be the decedent was at least partially if not totally responsible for the crash because she was distracted on her cell phone. There are at least two witnesses who have attested to seeing the woman behind her wheel and on her phone, seemingly texting, in the minutes before the crash, and testimony from troopers reportedly supported this assertion. However, the only way to know for sure if that’s true is to access the data on her phone.
Trucking firm/defendant filed a request to have a technology expert analyze the phone for information. The trial court granted the order, but set specific instructions for how that information could be obtained, and also i strictly limited the search to a nine-hour window around the crash.
Plaintiff, citing concerns for his wife’s privacy, objected to this search, and appealed that decision to Florida’s 1st District Court of Appeal. He said the search amounted to a digital fishing expedition.
However, after carefully considering the privacy concerns, appellate court affirmed the trial court, finding any privacy breaches limited when juxtaposed with the relevance of information sought. Further, the order did not depart from essential requirements of law, per the state’s rules of civil procedure.
But even if decedent was texting or talking around the time of the crash, it doesn’t necessarily mean she was doing so in the moments before impact, and it doesn’t mean her actions played a significant role in causing the crash. For example, maybe she was texting at a red light several minutes earlier. This may be one strategic avenue plaintiffs will explore in the event information gleaned reveals she was engaging with her phone while driving.
In general, plaintiffs should know that their cell phones could become evidence in the event of a crash. They should also know that we will fight vigorously on their behalf to ensure their rights are protected.
If you have been injured in an accident, contact the Hollander Law Firm at (561) 347-7770 for a free and confidential consultation. There is no fee unless we win.
Antico v. Sindt Trucking, Inc., Oct. 13, 2014, Florida’s First District Court of Appeal
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Florida Wrongful Death Lawsuit Filed After Alleged Nursing Home Neglect, Oct. 11, 2014, West Palm Beach Trucking Accident Lawyer