A personal injury claim can arise out of a variety of different situations including bicycle accidents, bar fights, slip-and-falls, and amusement park accidents, just to name a few. There are a multitude of different situations that can become the setting for a personal injury claim, and because of this diversity the evidence that is relevant in one personal injury case may be very different from the evidence that is relevant in another. However, the landscape of personal injury evidence is changing as personal fitness trackers have become more and more popular.
We’ve all noticed it; almost overnight traditional watches have been replaced by sporty bracelets that are forever counting every step that our friends and family members are taking. Society has become obsessed with monitoring heartbeats on personal fitness trackers and investing in the newest wearable fitness device (“wearables”) on the market. While fitness trackers can record a variety of information, Wearable.com notes that the latest fitness trackers can count steps, monitor sleep cycles, track your GPS location, record your heart rate, and even measure your strength. While this sort of information is mostly being collected for health and fitness purposes, lawyers have started using this abundance of information in the courtroom. In fact, information collected by a personal fitness tracker was recently used to provided exculpatory evidence in a rape case.
Personal Fitness Tracker Indicates that Woman Was Lying About Being Raped
The Wall Street Journal reports that a personal fitness tracker recently provided key evidence in a criminal case in Pennsylvania. The case involved a 44-year-old woman who called 911 claiming that an intruder had raped her in the middle of the night. The woman told the police that she had gone to bed around midnight, was awoken in the night by a man that she did not know, and was brutally raped in the bathroom. Of course officers came to investigate, and during the investigation they noticed a personal fitness device on the floor in a hallway. The alleged victim gave permission to download data off of the device.
The information that was recovered from the personal fitness device ultimately proved to be critical evidence in this rape case. By analyzing the movement information captured by the fitness device, it became clear that the woman who was alleged raped did not go to bed around midnight like she had claimed, but instead had been walking around all night. In fact, on the night in question her personal fitness device showed activity up until the time of the 911 call. A representative from the Lancaster County district attorney’s office told the Wall Street Journal that this movement information definitely turned the case. Based on this and additional evidence it was determined that the woman had not been raped and had in fact made up the entire intruder rape story. The woman was ordered to complete 100 hours of community service and to serve two years of probation.
Information Collected on Personal Fitness Devices and Personal Injury Claims
The Wall Street Journal’s article notes that this case’s use of physical movement data is the first of its kind, however, the article’s author is not surprised that health data collected from personal fitness devices is being used in court cases. According to an article in South Carolina Magazine, many personal injury litigators are excited about this new plethora of information that they may not be able to use in court to prove their clients’ cases. The article provides some examples of how information collected by wearables may potentially be used in personal injury cases, including the following:
- Alleged injury resulting in impaired physical activity: In many personal injury claims the plaintiff alleges that due to their injury they are no longer able to perform certain physical activities. In these cases, contradicting personal fitness device date showing that the plaintiff is still active would be very helpful in defending against this type of personal injury claim.
- Alleged injury resulting in insomnia: Additionally, a personal injury plaintiff who claims that they have become an insomniac as a result of their injury may be able to help prove their case by providing information about their nocturnal movement patterns courtesy of their wearable device.
South Carolina Magazine also points out that there are practical considerations as well as legal considerations that the legal community will need to sort out before the use of personal fitness information in personal injury cases can become the norm. The magazine notes that on a practical level personal injury lawyers will need to educate themselves about where personal fitness device data is stored, how the data is secured, and how to retrieve the data. The answers to these questions differ with each wearable device brand, and personal injury lawyers will need to look into the various company policies associated with the device in question. Additionally, because personal fitness devices track health data, the article points out that accessing this information may trigger implications under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). HIPAA famously provides privacy standards surrounding health data in order to ensure that an individual’s health data is protected and keep private where possible. However, the magazine points out that not all health information is covered by HIPAA and that personal injury attorneys will need to determine who has possession of the data and what they are doing with that information in order to determine if HIPAA restrictions are applicable. Essentially, if courts find that personal fitness device companies are bound by HIPPA, then the various standards set out by the act will need to be followed before health information collected by personal fitness devices can be obtained.
Need Legal Advice?
Pursuing a personal injury claim in South Carolina can be complicated. However, having a competent personal injury lawyer at your side can make all the difference. At the Elrod Pope Law Firm our experienced personal injury lawyers in South Carolina are committed to zealously pursuing your claim while answering any questions that you might have during the process. If you are considering filing a personal injury claim, contact us today to set up a free consultation.
Thomas E. Pope is a Personal Injury, Wrongful Death, and Medical Malpractice Attorney who practices in Rock Hill, Lake Wylie, and Lancaster, SC. He graduated from the University of South Carolina School of Law, and has been practicing law for 31 years now. Thomas E. Pope believes in protecting the injured. Learn more about his experience here.