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A Street View picture is just a picture, and needs to be proven as such

October 24, 2019

Without first-hand evidence or testimony about the reliability of how it was taken, Google mapping images are not admissible

The Third District Court of Appeal of Florida in City of Miami v. Juanita Kho reversed and remanded a trial court’s decision that accepted a Google Maps photograph (presumably taken by a Google Street View car) into evidence without proof of authentication. The Court of Appeal instead held that a photo taken from Google Street View will be subject to the same authentication requirements of any other photograph. In Florida, this is addressed in s. 90.901 of the Florida Evidence Code.

The underlying dispute had to do with a trip-and-fall accident in 2010 on a sidewalk. The plaintiff alleged that a difference of 1 ¼ inches between the sidewalk and a patch created a “dangerous and defective condition” resulting in the trip and subsequent fall. To prove her case, the plaintiff had to prove actual or constructive knowledge of the situation on the part of the defendant city.

The plaintiff had attempted to demonstrate this constructive knowledge by using a Google image of the sidewalk at issue, which was dated November 2007. The incident occurred in 2010.

The defendant objected to the admission of any internet photograph or map unless it was properly authenticated. During the hearing, the trial court said that a Google image is not “self-authenticating”, would be treated like any other photograph and thus require authentication by testimony.

The plaintiff’s expert testified that there was no substantial difference between the Google photograph and the photograph that was taken of the same location on the date of the plaintiff’s fall. Because the expert had not visited the location of the fall prior to 2010, he was unable to claim that the site of the fall three years before, when the Google image was taken, was in fact similar to the date of the fall. The plaintiff also did not introduce any testimony from a Google representative who may be able to speak to the image or how it was created.

At trial, the court overruled the defendant’s objection to admitting the Google photo as evidence without any additional testimony.

On appeal, the court strictly followed Section 90.901 of the Florida Evidence Code. The Court of Appeal stated at page 4 of its decision that “a Google Maps image must be authenticated in the same manner as any other photographic evidence before it is admitted in evidence”. This can be done using one of two methods:

  1. the “pictorial testimony” method, which requires a witness to have personal knowledge and testify that the image fairly and accurately depicts the scene, or
  2. the “silent witness” method, which requires that photograph “may be admitted upon proof of the reliability of the process which produced the tap or photo.

The Google image was not authenticated by either of these methods in the trial court, so the first ground was not satisfied by the plaintiff’s expert who had not attended the scene before 2010.

On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the photograph may be authenticated under the “silent witness” method. This was not successful, because the plaintiff “did not present any evidence as to the operating capabilities or condition of the equipment used by Google Maps”, or the procedures that Google Maps’ employees used to take the photograph, or any other relevant factors listed in precedents dealing with photos.

The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s decision and remanded the case with instructions that judgment be entered for the defendant.

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