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Using Google Map Evidence in Court, is it admissible?

Is Google Map evidence admissible in a jury trial?  An appeals court in Florida recently said “not necessarily” when it reviewed this question in City of Miami v. Kho.  

Juanita Kho sued the City of Miami for negligence after a trip-and-fall accident on a Miami sidewalk in 2010.  The sidewalk Juanita tripped on had an asphalt patch that was one-and-a quarter inches lower than the adjoining concrete slab.  Juanita alleged that is what caused her to fall, and that the difference in elevation was a “dangerous and defective condition.”

In order to win her case, Juanita was required to prove that Miami had either actual or constructive knowledge of the sidewalk’s condition at trial.  Unable to prove that Miami had actual knowledge of the condition of the sidewalk, she sought to prove constructive knowledge using a Google Maps photograph of the sidewalk dated November 2007 to show that the “dangerous and defective condition” existed then and that Miami should have known about it when she tripped in 2010.

Prior to trial, Miami indicated that it would object to the admission of the Google Maps photograph arguing that Juanita would not be able to lay the proper foundation to authenticate the photograph, as required by Florida law, because no one with knowledge of the sidewalk’s condition in November 2007 would be testifying.

Juanita then introduced the photograph through her expert who testified that there was no substantial difference between the Google Maps photograph taken in 2007 and a photograph taken of the same location on the date of her fall.  However, Juanita’s expert had not visited the sidewalk in question prior to 2010, and no one was called to testify who had personal knowledge of the sidewalk’s condition in November 2007.  Additionally, no Google Maps representative or anyone with control over or personal knowledge of the Google Maps system was called to testify.

Miami objected to the admissibility of the photograph based on lack of foundation and authentication, but the trial court overruled the objection.  Miami appealed the decision.

Florida Evidence Code requires that evidence be authenticated before it is admitted, including Google Maps images.  There are two methods of authenticating photographic evidence: 1) pictorial testimony “which requires a witness with personal knowledge to testify that the image fairly and accurately depicts a scene”; or 2) the “silent witness” method under which the photograph “may be admitted upon proof of the reliability of the process which produced the tape or photo.”

Based on the testimony Juanita provided at trial, the appeals court held that Juanita failed to authenticate the photograph, and therefore, it was not properly admitted in evidence.  The court noted that the date stamp on the photograph was insufficient to establish the date on which it was taken, that Juanita had not presented any evidence as to the operating capabilities or condition of the equipment used by Google Maps, and that there was no testimony as to the procedures used by Google Maps in taking the photograph.

Since the court found that the photograph was not authenticated and not properly admitted in evidence, the court held that Juanita had failed to present legally sufficient evidence of constructive knowledge and reversed and remanded the trial decision in favor of Miami.  In doing so, the court reasoned that Juanita was aware that Miami would be contesting the photograph’s admissibility and had adequate time to authenticate it via extrinsic evidence.

While this was a slip-and-fall case, this decision has important implications for other cases that use Google Maps evidence, such as OUI and other driving cases where Google Maps evidence and photographs can be used to either help or hurt the defendant. Additionally, different states have varied on their decisions on when Google Maps evidence is admissible.  An experienced attorney can advise you further.

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