In September 2020, our founding attorney, Dan Cytryn, sent a detailed letter to the Florida Code & Rules of Evidence Committee (on which he was serving, and continues to serve), suggesting that the committee recommend to the Florida Legislature to adopt an amendment to the Florida Evidence Code. This proposed amendment would allow trial judges in Florida state courts to take judicial notice of internet mapping, satellite imaging, and photographs (such as street views) from Google, Bing, and other similar internet companies.
Mr. Cytryn looked at other courts, including federal courts and New York state courts, where they had already started allowing trial judges to take judicial notice of internet mapping and imaging. In his letter, Mr. Cytryn explained that many courts have concluded that Google Maps and Google Earth images are “sources whose accuracy cannot reasonably be questioned.” He noted that the proposed amendment to the Evidence Code would work in furtherance of judicial economy and cost-saving for parties to the litigation.
The proposal suggested by Mr. Cytryn would allow lawyers, upon proper notice, to easily use the internet for such things as showing the location of a vehicular collision, or proving whether a defective condition existed at premises at any point before an incident occurred. Internet mapping and satellite evidence could be used in all sorts of personal injury cases. For example, in proving whether a pothole existed at a time before a client’s fall. The evidence could also be used in numerous other types of cases, as well. In a homeowner’s claim against an insurance company, for instance, to show what the condition was of a homeowner’s roof before a storm. Imaging evidence is the type of evidence that both plaintiffs and defendants will find useful in a variety of cases.
Additionally, being able to copy the images straight from Google or another similar website will potentially result in a significant amount of money saved for litigators and their clients. Years ago, in auto accident trials, if we wanted to put into evidence a picture of an intersection taken from the sky, we used to have to hire a prop plane company to fly over the intersection and actually take a photograph of the intersection (and this would cost us at least $400-500, if not considerably more in some cases). Or if we wanted a photograph of a street view of that same intersection, we used to have to send out investigators to take photographs of the intersection from ground level.
In more recent years, we had the option of using images and photographs that we found online at Google or some other website, but in order to get those into evidence, we used to have to subpoena the internet company to authenticate the records. And getting some of these internet behemoths such as Google to timely respond to a subpoena wasn’t always easy.
There was even a recent appellate case in Florida, City of Miami v. Kho, 290 So. 3d 942 (Fla. 3d DCA 2019), reh'g denied (Dec. 6, 2019), where the court reversed a case because the trial judge allowed one of the parties to introduce at trial a date-stamped image from Google Maps. The appellate court held that because the party failed to properly authenticate the image, the trial court committed reversible error by allowing that image into evidence.
Thankfully, we don’t have to worry about this anymore.
Now, as a result of the new law, we can generally use internet mapping and imaging at trial without having to go through the trouble and expense of hiring people to take photographs for us, or of having to subpoena Google or Bing, or any other entity. We are now able to use the internet mapping and imaging for numerous different purposes at trial, including to show the jury what the scene of an accident looked like on the date of the incident, attorneys and witnesses can draw or mark up the images to explain things to the jury, we can use the images to measure distances between point A and point B, and a whole lot more. The internet mapping and imaging evidence could potentially be used in all aspects of the trial, including opening and closing statements, and during witness testimony.
With the help of the chairperson of our committee, Attorney Curry Pajcic of Jacksonville, who managed to move this proposal quickly through with some awesome Legislative lobbying, the Florida Senate passed the bill 39-0 and the Florida House passed it 112-0. And on May 10, 2022, Governor Ron DeSantis signed the bill into law.
As of July 1, 2022, Florida Statutes § 90.2035 states:
(1)(a) Upon request of a party, a court may take judicial notice of an image, map, location, distance, calculation, or other information taken from a widely accepted web mapping service, global satellite imaging site, or Internet mapping tool, if such image, map, location, distance, calculation, or other information indicates the date on which the information was created.
(b) A party intending to offer such information in evidence at trial or at a hearing must file a notice of such intent within a reasonable time or as defined by court order. The notice must include a copy of the information and specify the Internet address or pathway where such information may be accessed and inspected.
(2)(a) A party may object to the court taking judicial notice of the image, map, location, distance, calculation, or other information taken from a widely accepted web mapping service, global satellite imaging site, or Internet mapping tool within a reasonable time or as defined by court order.
(b) In civil cases, there is a rebuttable presumption that information sought to be judicially noticed under this section should be judicially noticed. The rebuttable presumption may be overcome if the court finds by the greater weight of the evidence that the information does not fairly and accurately portray what it is being offered to prove or that it otherwise should not be admitted into evidence under the Florida Evidence Code.
(c) If the court overrules the objection, the court must take judicial notice of the information and admit the information into evidence.
(3) In criminal cases, the court must instruct the jury that the jury may or may not accept the noticed facts as conclusive.
(4) This section does not affect, expand, or limit standards for any matters that may otherwise be judicially noticed.