More and more automobile accidents are occurring because drivers are using their phones to text or talk while driving. An issue concerning the usage of a cell phone was raised in a wrongful death action before the First District Florida Court of Appeals.
The case of Antico v. Sindt Trucking, Inc. involved an accident between a truck and a car that resulted in the death of the car’s driver. After the estate of the car’s driver initiated suit, the defendant denied liability and sought to inspect the driver’s cell phone. The defendants alleged that the decedent was at fault for the accident because she was distracted by her phone. Accordingly, the defendants made several discovery requests regarding the phone’s usage, including call and text records.
However, the defendants also requested discovery of other data, such as use and location information as well as internet and email activity. The plaintiff objected to the inspection of the phone’s data on the grounds that it would violate the decedent’s privacy rights. The trial court granted the discovery motion, over the plaintiff’s objection, and the matter was appealed.
On appeal, the court cited to Florida Rules of Civil Procedure allowing discovery into matters that are relevant, admissible, or reasonably calculated to lead to admissible evidence. The court noted, however, that rulings regarding discovery of electronic devices must not violate privacy rights. Limited inspections of electronic devices that protect an individual’s privacy interests are allowed under Florida laws. In fact, Florida case law allows for the inspection of electronic devices if there is a threat that evidence contained on the device will be destroyed, and there is no less intrusive method of obtaining the information.
The appellate court held that the trial court had carefully balanced the decedent’s privacy interests with the right to discover relevant information. The court noted evidence indicating that the decedent had used the phone to text within minutes of the accident. Additional evidence included witnesses who observed the driver using her phone at the time of the accident. Moreover, according to the court, a smart phone has the capability to determine a user’s actions in the minutes immediately before a particular event. The trial court’s order allowing discovery adequately limited the inspection that was to occur: a time period of nine hours was proscribed, and only certain data was to be viewed. The plaintiff was also entitled to monitor the inspection of the phone, with the right to object to particular data sought by the defendants.
The appeals court also found it significant that the plaintiff had failed to offer its own expert to examine the phone, or propose any other manner to retrieve the information sought. The appellate court held that the trial court had not violated the decedent’s privacy interests by permitting the limited, focused inspection of the cell phone.
If you or someone you know has been injured because of a negligent driver, you may be entitled to damages. The Southwest Florida car accident attorneys at Lusk, Drasites & Tolisano are skilled in using all relevant evidence to present a strong case on your behalf. We serve residents in and around Fort Myers, Naples, Cape Coral and other communities in Collier and Lee Counties. For a complementary case evaluation, contact us online or call toll-free at (800) 238-7442 today.
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