You've got to give credit where credit is due.

At the end of 2018, New York's legislature added CPLR 4511(c), entitled “When judicial notice shall be taken on a rebuttable presumption,” to Article 45 of the Civil Practice Law and Rules, which governs the rules of evidence.

What the Amendment Says - and Does

That section provides, in pertinent part, as follows:

4511(c): "Every court shall take judicial notice of an image, map, location, distance, calculation, or other information taken from a web mapping service, a global satellite imaging site, or an internet mapping tool, when requested by a party to the action, subject to a rebuttable presumption that such image, map, location, distance, calculation, or other information fairly and accurately depicts the evidence presented."

As a practical matter - and unlike what had been the case up until now - this allows parties to enter into evidence without needing further authentication various documents or other forms of visual identification of an accident or crime scene provided it comes from a reliable source of digital information, such as Google Maps, Google Earth or similar web-based mapping services. It then becomes incumbent on the opposing party, i.e., their burden, to rebut the presumption that the evidence is reliable, and a mere "naked objection" claiming that the evidence does not fairly or accurately portray the scene in question that is not substantiated by credible evidence will not suffice.

The Practical Applications of this New Rule

Until this amendment, the party seeking to introduce this kind of evidence needed to get Google's (or the other mapping service's) certification that those images were accurate when taken, adding a time-consuming - and costly - hurdle to getting these items into admissible form for trial.

Practically, as you may, and should guess, some of the most natural applications of this rule would be in the following types of cases:

  • Slip/Trip and Fall Cases (showing the area of the fall)
  • Car Accident Cases (showing the intersection where the accident occurred)
  • Criminal Cases - showing the areas in question

The Takeaway

This is an eminently reasonable - and long overdue - amendment to the rules of evidence that acknowledges what we all have known for years: pretty much everyone relies upon these web mapping services, and that's because they are very reliable and fairly depict scenes at the time those images are taken. Consequently, there is no rational reason that parties to litigation - whether in the civil or criminal context - should not be able to avail themselves of this beneficial technology at trial without jumping through numerous (nearly impossible) procedural hurdles just to get that digital information - which would be most valuable to the judge and/or jury hearing the case - into evidence. 

Job well done.

Jonathan Cooper
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Non-Compete, Trade Secret and School Negligence Lawyer
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