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The Crash of Digital Privacy Rights and Discovery in Auto Accidents

A recent Florida case involving the wrongful death lawsuit of a motorist involved in a fatal auto accident collision with a truck has highlighted how privacy rights and discovery requests in an effort to prove fault and comparative negligence can intersect as opposing interests in Florida car accident cases.

Improper use of a mobile device while driving in Florida is only a secondary traffic offense and, as such, is generally categorized as a “careless driving” infraction. However, depending on the circumstances of any resulting accident, driving behavior that would be defined as careless if it resulted in no dire consequences could also be deemed as reckless if it resulted in an accident, injuries or death. These are important distinctions, as they pertain to civil cases and the finding of fault and determination of comparative negligence.

Digital Data Increasingly Relevant

Florida crash-related personal injury lawsuits are increasingly inclusive of endeavors by both plaintiffs and defendants to request and secure the cell phone records of the opposing side. The purpose for this is to gather evidence to aid in the determination of whether or not the individual in question was using their mobile phone at the time of the crash.

Cell phone data is often vital to proving fault and showing comparative negligence in an accident. However, questions regarding personal digital records and property rights have also been introduced as a consequence of these new practices.

Recent Appeals Court Ruling Overrules Privacy Defense

A Florida state appeals court recently denied a motion from the estate of a car accident victim to deny the defendant’s discovery request for data regarding the victim’s cell phone usage. The appeals court ruled that the trial court had mandated guidelines to ensure that the deceased victim’s privacy rights were respected.

The court noted that, “Contrary to petitioner’s argument, privacy rights do not completely foreclose the prospect of data stored on electronic devices.” The court countered that, “Rather, limited and strictly controlled inspections of information stored on electronic devices may be permitted.”

Procedural Guidelines to Protect Privacy

The Appeals Court noted also that, “The record here indicates that the trial court closely considered how to balance respondents’ discovery rights and the decedent’s privacy rights.”

The trial court had ordered that an expert for the defendants will have permission to review all the data stored on the mobile phone in question, as long as that data is related to a nine-hour time window surrounding the time of the accident. This would include all data such as call records, text messages, web searches, emails sent and received, downloads, uploads, GPS data and data changes.

Additionally, the expert is to be monitored during the review of the data by the plaintiff’s attorney and is to install specialized software that obstructs any attempts at modification of the device’s hard drive.

Perhaps most importantly in terms of privacy protections, the order states that prior to the expert disclosing any data mined from the review, the plaintiff will be allowed to review the information and file objections or motion for protective orders.

Privacy Concerns Not to Outweigh Discovery Requests

While privacy issues are viewed as important in cases such as these, it appears that, as long as appropriate procedures are in place, Florida courts are likely to rule in favor of both parties having access to all digital information that may be relevant to the case and proving the kind of reckless driving that supports an eventual finding of fault and comparative negligence on the part of one or both of the parties in question.

The legal team at Reed & Reed in Florida is always available to give you more information about protecting victims’ rights and privacy. Contact us today for help. Contact us today for help. From our office in Brandon, we help clients in Tampa, New Tampa, Plant City, throughout east Hillsborough County and the state of Florida. Contact Reed & Reed for a free consultation.

Reed & Reed, Attorneys at Law
Reed & Reed, Attorneys at Law, is located in Brandon, FL and serves clients in
and around Brandon, Tampa, Apollo Beach, Sydney, Gibsonton, Balm, Valrico, Wimauma, Sun City Center, Lithia, Ruskin, Durant, and Hillsborough County.

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