Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Future is Now: Info from Vehicle "Black Box" Is Admissible in a Pennsylvania Criminal Case

Once in a while there comes along an appellate court criminal law decision (albeit non-precedential) that could impact Pennsylvania civil litigation matters.

In its recent “non-precedential” memorandum decision in the case of Commonwealth v. Safka,  No. 1312 - WDA - 2012 (Pa.Super. June 2, 2014 Panella, J., Olsen, J., and Wecht, J.)(Non-Precedential)(Mem. Opinion by Panella, J.)(Concurring and Dissenting Op. by Wecht, J.),  a criminal court case, the Pennsylvania Superior Court ruled in a case of first impression that information retrieved from a vehicle's "event data recorder," more commonly known as the "black box," was admissible in a criminal court proceeding.

[Why the Superior Court would list this notable, trend-setting Opinion as “non-precedential” is puzzling to say the least].

Surely, it is only a matter of time before this rule of admissibility is also applied in the civil litigation context.

Once that happens (or even already), the issue becomes whether a party may assert a spoliation, or destruction of evidence, defense against an opposing party for failing to preserve such black box information after a car accident.  

If such a defense is found to be warranted, a court may grant a party an adverse inference jury instruction at trial stating that the jury may infer from the opposing party's failure to preserve the black box information that such information would have been adverse to that party's position. 

As such, it may be wise to consider developing procedures to preserve such information after an accident, particularly where a party denies that he or she was speeding or driving carelessly at the time of an accident.

To view the majority Opinion in Commonwealth v. Safka, please click HERE.

To view Judge Wecht's concurring and dissenting Opinion, please click this LINK.

Sources:  Article by Zack Needles in June 4, 2014 The Legal Intelligencer entitled "Vehicle Speed Information From 'Black Box' Ruled Admissible."  Also thanks to Attorney Walt A. McClatchy, Jr. of the Philadelphia law insurance defense firm of McClatchy and Associates for this tip.

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