Many types of evidence can be brought before the judge and jury in a court case. As one very common way people communicate today, text messages are among the types of evidence that could, under certain conditions, make their way into a trial—including, potentially, a personal injury trial.
Text messages often serve as evidence in court, but personal injury lawsuits may not be the types of legal matters in which you would usually imagine a shocking text message blowing the case wide open.
More commonly, text messages are brought up as evidence in criminal proceedings and in civil matters involving family law (divorce and custody cases), defamation (libel and slander), employment litigation (harassment and discrimination), and business contract disputes, among other examples.
However, text messages may serve a purpose in certain matters involving accidents, wrongful deaths, and personal injury.
Texting and driving, along with cell phone use behind the wheel more generally, is a major factor in distracted driving. Perhaps the most obvious way text messages can prove useful in a personal injury claim is by showing that the defendant was texting at the time of the collision.
To make this determination, a lawyer would look for text messages with a timestamp that matches the time of the collision.
The content of text messages may help establish liability for an injury, even if the sending of the message itself didn’t contribute to the accident.
Suppose you were struck by a commercial vehicle, and you see the other driver frantically texting right after the collision, even before getting out of the vehicle or calling for help. You might suspect that the other driver chose to contact their manager before carrying out their obligation to render aid.
Their text messages could contain statements that show they were at fault—statements like “I just rear-ended this car, what do I do?” It’s even possible that the exchange could include messages from trucking company employees that advise the driver to lie about what happened.
Text messages may contain valuable evidence even in cases involving accidents unrelated to motor vehicles. In the case of a work accident, text messages sent by or to colleagues and managers may help your attorney piece together what happened and who could be liable.
Similarly, text messages could help establish negligence in a premises liability matter if, for example, there are messages showing that a landlord was notified of a safety hazard they failed to fix and that ultimately caused your (or someone else’s) injuries.
Remember, the fact that you could potentially use the defendant’s text messages against them in court means that it’s plausible that the defense could attempt to do the same to you. Even if you weren’t at fault for the accident, it’s a common tactic for the defendant to try to put the blame on the victim to avoid paying out on the claim—through any means necessary, even potentially taking out of context and twisting the content of your text messages.
When you send any text messages in which you mention the accident, your injuries, your physical recovery, or the accident’s effects on your life, be cautious. Make sure that the message you’re sending, even to someone you trust, accurately reflects what happened.
While it’s common to use shorthand in texting, leaving out or in any way trivializing the accident or your injuries could hurt you if the defense attorneys seek to use those messages to downplay the severity of your injuries. Defendants’ legal teams often do the same thing with social media posts, so attempting to use text messages in this way is not as much of a stretch as you might think.
When talking about your accident, it’s safest to use other methods of communication rather than text messages. Texts aren’t as risky as social media posts, which can be accessed by anyone, but the safest way to have detailed discussions about the accident and your injuries with anyone (other than your doctor or lawyer) is in person or over a phone call.
If you think the defendant’s text messages may offer some information of value to your claim, it’s important to speak to your attorney about your concerns. Securing the defendant’s text messages isn’t necessarily a standard part of the personal injury claims process. Your attorney needs to know that you saw the other driver using their phone behind the wheel in your rearview mirror prior to the crash or that you noticed that a commercial truck driver prioritized sending a text over actually calling for help after the collision, because these circumstances give your lawyer a reason to take a closer look at the defendant’s text messages.
Text messages can serve as valuable evidence, but to be considered to be evidence that would be admissible in court, certain legal requirements have to be met. The intended evidence must go through the appropriate process to be permitted to be shown in court. You’re likely to need to show that these messages are (1) authentic (not fake) and (2) relevant to the facts of the case.
To get access to these messages in the first place, you may need to subpoena the text messages from the cell phone company. You can ask the defendant to provide these text messages, but without a subpoena or a court order, they may not be required to do so.
Having a basic idea of how text messages can be used in court is valuable, but luckily, navigating this tricky part of the legal process isn’t your responsibility. Your lawyer will handle this task, as well as all other aspects of your claim, so you can focus on just getting better.
If you want to learn more about distracted driving laws in New Jersey or Pennsylvania, contact our skilled personal injury attorneys at Console & Associates Accident Injury Lawyers, P.C. to schedule a free consultation. We have offices in Marlton, Newark, and Philadelphia and are ready to help you with your questions about text messages used in court.