This is the second of the series titled Proving Personal Injury & Digital Technology: Where We Are & Where We Want to Be, which looks at how digital technology is influencing personal injury litigation. Law practitioners are generally not on the “cutting edge” of technology for several reasons. Some reasons include how the legal profession tends to minimize risk potential, the sensitive and confidential nature of the information involved in their work, and that legal practice involves significant interaction and compliance with governmental entities, which are generally late adopters of technology. Great benefits are achievable with the enhanced usage of digital technology such as cost reduction, increases in efficiency, and the ability to engage, communicate, and conduct business with clients across various channels of communication.
Courts Entering the Electronic Age
Most Colorado courts have transitioned to electronic document submission. The Denver District Court requires pleadings and related documents to be submitted electronically. The Chief Judge cited e-filing as an “efficient and cost-effective” means of managing the substantial volume of documents received and suggested that attorneys benefit by the capability of submitting files at any time or location. Attorney pleadings sent in paper format are returned or subject to a $50 administrative fee for scanning and uploading the document. The U.S. District Court for Colorado also adopted requirements that all files in civil matters be submitted electronically in portable document format (PDF) or via the Electronic Case Filing System (ECF)
Insurance Companies Expand Electronic Capabilities
Insurance companies, like court systems, have identified needs for advancements in digital technology in managing claim volume. In 2016, roughly 190 million vehicles were registered in the U.S. and over 15 million automobile accidents occurred. In addition to internal benefits, many consumers have expectations in how they purchase insurance, submit payments or claims, and access their policy details online. Insurers are reshaping the claims process is some of the following ways:
- Rather than waiting on hold to call in claims, they may be transmitted through a website or mobile app.
- Lengthy phone calls with claims reps can be completed by an electronic Q&A and uploading of damage photos or videos.
- Eliminating the need to call and check in on the status of a claim, with updates via email, text etc.
- Payment for claims can be electronically deposited in a bank account instead of awaiting a paper check.
- Accident Scene: Documenting the scene immediately following an incident is now simpler with most Americans using smartphones with photo and video capability to retain evidence, including vehicle damage, objects present at the scene, and traffic conditions. Technology such as Google Maps with street view also provides a tremendous perspective.
- Medical Imaging: Although medical experts have long been employed in personal injury actions, newer innovations in imaging (scanning) can more clearly show injuries. Digital motion X-ray is capable of illustrating damage to tissue and ligaments in the spine and certain neck injuries. The proton density MRI helps identify upper spinal injuries, ligament and tissue damage that otherwise would not be apparent.
- Surveillance: Cameras are increasingly present in public places and most mobile phones have recording devices. Colorado generally allows surveillance evidence as long as properly disclosed. Footage of claimant activity can be used effectively to challenge the severity of injuries, claims of pain and suffering, and emotional distress.
Roughly 70% of people currently use social media and plaintiffs should assume that opposing counsel will review their profile seeking evidence to hinder a claim. Plaintiffs should avoid commenting on the case and consider using available privacy settings, as many courts deem social media as admissible public information.
Electronic Vehicle Logging & Activity Devices
Electronic data collecting devices often referred to as “black boxes,” recently were mandated for commercial vehicle operators that can reveal key evidence in an accident case. Examples of information used include that the driver exceeded limits on the number of hours of driving, failed to conduct vehicle inspections, or was speeding at the time. Most passenger vehicles now have some type of recording device installed by the manufacturer; however, courts haven’t allowed this data in a case yet. Law enforcement and safety advocates will likely continue encouraging legislators to consider allowing usage of this information.