Wearable Technology and Personal Injury Cases: Evidence and Ethics
Wearable technology has gone from calculator watch to Apple Watch in the last few decades. Now we can tweet from our T-shirts, view the world through Google Glass, and keep track of our health and habits second by second with a Fitbit – and these wearable tech trends are only predicted to continue growing and advancing. (Be on the lookout for smartwatches, computerized clothing, and wearable technology as future business accessories.) As we continue to integrate this technology into our lives, the data it collects presents an ever more detailed picture of our daily activity – a picture that may soon be routinely used as evidence in the courtroom.
For example, a personal injury case could revolve around evidence from a Fitbit showing a marked decrease in activity following an injury. Just such a case occurred at the end of 2014 in Canada. The plaintiff, a former personal trainer, used the data from her Fitbit to demonstrate the change in her physical activity following a traffic accident. Could a pattern of spikes in heart rate make a case for undue workplace stress? What about a malpractice lawsuit incorporating data that shows a physician’s chronic lack of sleep? How much more detailed could accident reconstruction become with data from someone’s wearable tech about speed, direction, and location immediately preceding a collision with a semi truck?
In the case of the personal trainer in Canada, the evidence for the plaintiff may have gone from a sketchy record of gym visits before and after the accident to a detailed record of gym visits correlated with heart rate data that shows a real difference in fitness and activity. With real-time data about activity levels, location, and even sleep patterns, quality of life claims in court cases may become infinitely more quantifiable. A claim of emotional damages may now be supportable by hard data showing a pattern of insomnia, high blood pressure, or other physical symptoms of stress and/or other negative emotions. Personal injury attorneys and doctors may also be better equipped to address the consequences of an incident before more severe or more visible conditions develop.
Of course, wearable technology will not be a magic bullet making every personal injury lawsuit an open-and-shut case, but it is certainly a new and powerful tool for developing a claim. Like most evidence, there will undoubtedly be complications in some cases. For example, wearable technology is vulnerable to fraud – someone else could be wearing your Fitbit at the time of an injury or during recovery – so the data collected will still need to be corroborated with things such as traditional eyewitness testimony, data from other devices, and other types of evidence. Regardless, wearable technology makes possible a new level of specificity when addressing the effects of personal injuries, whether in private life or at work.
Naturally, there are also concerns about the ethics of accessing and using this kind of personal data. We, as a society, are still deciding what level of privacy is appropriate as technology increasingly pushes the limits of precedent. But it is not just social media, smartphones, and government surveillance that are at issue anymore. Wearable technology is increasing the “resolution” of our personal information. As this resolution increases, it is natural that new applications will be found for that information. Personal injury suits are just one such area where our health, habits, and routines can now be weighed and considered as hard data.
Bonnington, C. (2014, December 12). Data from our wearables is now courtroom fodder. Wired. Retrieved from http://www.wired.com/2014/12/wearables-in-court/
Gibbs, S. (2014, November 18). Court sets legal precedent with evidence from Fitbit health tracker. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/nov/18/court-accepts-data-fitbit-health-tracker
Norris, A. (2014, December 27). Wearable technology: 2015 is the year of the smart bra. The Telegraph. Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/predictions/technology/11306735/wearable-technology-trend.html
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