Maryland Court Considers Admissibility of Metadata Details in Premises Liability Case

A Maryland personal injury case may involve many forms of evidence, including witness testimony, medical bills, photographs and/or video, among others.  Generally, non-testimonial items of evidence must be authenticated before they are admitted at trial.  Depending on the type of evidence, authentication may be made by a lay witness, or it may require an expert to lay the foundation.  In a September 30, 2021 premises liability case, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland addressed the requirements to admit digital file metadata of a cell phone picture at trial. 

The plaintiff in the case fell on the sidewalk while walking her dogs, suffering a broken right foot, two sprained wrists, and a fractured left knee cap.  The plaintiff alleged that she had stepped on a piece of concrete debris on the sidewalk, which caused her to fall.  She filed suit against the City, which owned the sidewalks, as well as the contractor hired by the City to repair them.

At trial, the plaintiff’s friend testified that after arriving at the plaintiff’s home to take her to Urgent Care, she went outside and took photographs of the concrete debris with her iPhone, which were later admitted into evidence.  The friend also admitted that she had moved the debris so that others would not fall.

The date of the photos was disputed, however, as the plaintiff testified that they were not taken on the day of her fall.  The defense sought to admit evidence of the creation date from the metadata of the photos, which reflected a date taken two weeks after the accident.  The trial court denied the request, ruling that expert testimony was required to introduce that evidence.  The jury went on to find in favor of the plaintiff, and awarded her $300,000 in damages.

On appeal, the issue for the court was whether the date provided by the metadata could be introduced through a lay witness, i.e., the plaintiff’s friend who took the photos.  In Maryland, expert testimony is required only when the subject is so particularly related to a science or profession that is beyond the knowledge of the average person.  Such testimony is not required on matters that are common knowledge.  

The appeals court observed that when metadata is presented through litigation, it is generally accomplished through expert testimony.  However, the admission of time and location information recorded by computers, such as GPS reports and employee timesheets, that does not need to be analyzed or interpreted, does not require expert testimony.  The court therefore concluded that no specialized knowledge was necessary for the lay witness to read the date taken as it appears on the metadata of a digital photo.  Insofar as the evidence was relevant to multiple disputed issues, including when and where the debris was moved, the court reversed the verdict and remanded for a new trial.

At Foran & Foran, P.A., our Maryland accident lawyers can represent victims of negligence in premises liability or personal injury actions.  Call our office at (301) 441-2022 or contact us online and request a free consultation to discuss your injury with one of our experienced attorneys.

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