Digital DNA Strikes Again in Civil Discovery

John Blumenschein

A recent article written by attorney Mark A. Berman in Law Technology News, entitled Recent Decisions Focus on Duty to Preserve ESI and Metadata, highlights the important role that metadata can play in civil discovery. He focused on a series of recent New York State decisions that dealt with these issues, and one particular case he referenced, Alfano v. LC Main, LLC, 2013 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 1046 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. Mar. 18, 2013), involved an EnCE®-certified computer examiner named Michael Nelson, who used EnCase® Forensic in his tool set to help establish that the metadata associated with a digital photograph submitted by the plaintiff had not been taken at the time of the event at issue in the matter.

This action was commenced to recover damages for personal injuries allegedly sustained by the plaintiff when he slipped and fell on ice on a construction site owned by the defendant. The plaintiffs submitted photographs of the accident scene taken several days after the accident, which they claimed depicted the area where the accident occurred and the snow and ice conditions as they existed at the time of the accident.

According to the affidavit of Michael Nelson, however, who conducted a forensic analysis of the photographs and the metadata associated with them, the plaintiffs' photographs were taken 12 days post-accident, “...and therefore, do not accurately depict the scene of the accident as it appeared at the time of the accident, as plaintiff claims.”

As this case demonstrates, metadata can play a pivotal role in civil discovery. Having a tool in place like EnCase Forensic, which preserves metadata at the point of collection, can help ensure that your organization is preserving potentially relevant ESI in the proper manner, and can also be used as a tool to refute claims made by your opponent. 

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