This is the final of a three-part series titled Personal Injury & Digital Technology: Where We Are & Where We Want to Be that looks at how digital technology impacts personal injury actions. Digital technology usage will rise in the coming years. The volume of digital data is approximately 10 zettabytes and will reach 40 zettabytes by 2020. Jobs in tech-driven areas will see significant growth. The Bureau of Labor Statistics explains that massive occupational opportunities will be in STEM--science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Their projections suggest that over one-million such jobs will exist by 2022. We are seeing a response to the trend in our educational systems with programs designed to train these future workers.
Future devices will be capable of providing detailed footage from distances greater than 350 feet. Images and video data are increasingly easy to store, as often the cost of capacity necessary to retain this voluminous data was unaffordable. This advancement combined with the satellite imaging capabilities of geographical data systems like Google's will allow for more passive surveillance. For more active surveillance, technology using unmanned aircraft such as drones will continue. For example, much of the innovation used currently in our military surveillance will eventually be retired and likely then be marketed affordably to consumers, law enforcement etc. In civil litigation, surveillance evidence is generally accepted; however, privacy advocates are aggressively challenging surveillance deemed as perverse or intrusive under the fourth amendment.
Devices that individuals wear will exist in the future of personal injury practice. Google Glass is a device worn on the head like eyeglasses that Inc.com says a California attorney is already incorporating in courtroom activities. This lawyer currently uses the technology to document (record) interviews and depositions. Inc. projects this device will be used as a secondary recording device, a means of conducting research in real-time, as a source of evidence, and for advice during the jury selection process. Devices such as Apple's watch and Fitbit are worn to passively monitor and track movements for health purposes. Forbes reported on a personal injury plaintiff using Fitbit data to demonstrate how her level of activity has been limited as a result of an injury, in comparison to the norms for those of the same age, occupation and other demographics. As widespread usage occurs, courts will face decisions regarding their discoverability when worn by parties in claims.
Electronic Data Recorders
Most automobiles are now manufactured with an onboard data recorder commonly called a “black box.” In State v. Worsham in Florida, the defendant was a motorist facing manslaughter and DWI following an accident. Police accessed the device in his vehicle and attempted to admit the data as evidence; however, the court denied it saying a warrant is necessary based on expectations of privacy. In future serious injury cases like this, warrants will likely be obtained to admit this key evidence.
Driverless vehicle development is actively underway and proponents say it will significantly reduce accidents. Colorado's Governor Hickenlooper has allowed testing of these vehicles with the approval of the Department of Transportation or Colorado State Patrol. Some current features include:
- Vehicle communication with traffic signs & signals capable of generating red light and stop sign alerts.
- Monitoring of speed limits and construction zone recognition in real-time.
- Vehicle-to-vehicle communications that can prevent potential collisions.
- Notification of the presence of pedestrians in or near the roadway.
The usage of drones will certainly lead to future injury litigation. These small, unmanned devices fly and are controlled wirelessly by an operator—possibly a child. As this technology progresses, so will the affordability for consumers, leading to claims from drone collisions with individuals, vehicles, homes etc. The Federal Aviation Administration is considering owner registration requirements. Those operating these devices negligently may certainly face civil claims.
As those in legal practice begin to employ more digital technology, the issue of security will be of increased importance. Attorneys are likely to maintain data that may be personal, financial, or otherwise sensitive that could potentially be breached. Increased emphasis will be placed on data encryption and password security in email, mobile devices, legal case management systems and more.
Digital technology increasingly impacts personal injury cases and is likely to continue to do so into the future. The more tools available to collect and present evidence, the more likely your case - if you have been involved in an accident and sue for damages - will be empowered by some form of digital technology. Having an experienced attorney who understands the technology and how to use it effectively will be just as important as the technology itself.