Monthly Archives: September 2011

Proving Liability in Car Accident Cases Using Google Earth

As the Internet Age progresses, I expect personal injury litigation to change in keeping with the times. Naturally, this extends to the “tool kit” that lawyers use to prove liability in car accident injury cases.

Overhead views of highways and intersections can be invaluable in proving liability for collisions. They can be useful for showing the general layout of accident scenes, establishing the location of traffic signals, illustrating sightlines, showing the movement of vehicles between lanes or through intersections, or establishing the location of witnesses. Not long ago, it was commonplace to see questions on bar association listserves looking for sources of aerial photographs of roads and highways for use in car accident cases.

No longer. Google Earth has become the go-to resource for many for overhead photos. They are in color, searchable, and can be zoomed in or out depnding on what view the situation calls for.

I have seen these admitted into evidence in a variety of ways: by stipulation, through a request for admission, or through the testimony of a party, witness or police officer. My view is that laying the foundation is essentially the same as for any photograph- using a witness to testify that the image is a photo of what it purports to be.

I am not aware of any Maryland authority directly addressing the admission of this kind of material into evidence. I would not be surprised if someday we have an evidentiary rule specifically addressing the issue.

Even though sometimes you may have a problem getting Google Earth images admitted, it may be worth a try just based on the price. I am unaware of any other reasonably priced means of obtaining overhead images. Of course, making sure you have the proper permisssions or licenses to use the material is your responsibility.

Are Maryland’s Judicial Salaries Too Low?

Here is a link to an article in today’s Daily Record about the state’s Judicial Compensation Commission’s recommendation that Maryland’s judges should be given a raise. According to the article, the judiciary last received a raise in 2008. In 2009, the Commission recommended a $39,858 raise to be phased in over four years, but the plan was never put into law by the legislature.

All of Maryland’s judges are paid six-figure salaries. It’s an easy reaction to dismiss the Commission’s recommendation as an attempt by an already well-paid judiciary to get even more from the state’s coffers. This is particularly true when a recommendation like this is made in a time of public and private belt-tightening due to a down economy. Certainly, many will make that argument.

Good benefits, paid holidays, and strong retirement plans have historically been some of the draws of public employment as opposed to working in the private sector. The trade-off is generally making a lesser salary than would be earned in a comparable position in the private sector. As the article points out, most judges that came to the bench from a private legal practice took a pay cut to do so. But on the other hand, many judges come to the bench from other government positions or from private practice situations that may have been less lucrative than some others. Presumably, there are judges for whom taking the bench entails a pay raise.

This is issue is more complex than it initially appears, and I don’t have a clear answer. I can say that I have had the personal experience of working with many judges whom I believe provide value to the judicial system far in excess of their listed salaries. But I am not sure that Maryland’s economic (and political) climate has changed so much since 2009 that the proposed raise will be an easier sell to the General Assembly or the electorate.