Satellite and mapping imagery has an important role in the litigation of property insurance claims, from its use to question a witness under oath, its use as a demonstrative aid at trial, to even being admitted into evidence at trial.
Over the years, commercially available satellite imaging and mapping imaging technology has advanced. What decades ago was grainy imaging technology has now developed into satellite and street-level images that, with clarity, document the historical condition of a property, sometimes with such high resolution that it is possible to identify individual missing shingles on a roof covering.
In this year’s legislative session, the Florida Legislature recognized the reliable nature of this technology by unanimously passing SB 634, which Florida’s Governor quickly signed into law. SB 634 comes into effect on July 1, 2022.
SB 634 creates section 90.2035, Florida Statutes, providing a mechanism to have satellite imaging and mapping technology admitted into evidence as judicially noticed. Under Florida’s Evidence Code, a fact can be judicially noticed (and admitted into evidence) as not in dispute because it is capable of accurate and ready determination by resort to sources whose accuracy cannot be questioned.
The new section 90.2035 establishes a mechanism by which a party in civil litigation can have a court take judicial notice of information taken from widely-accepted web mapping services, global satellite imaging sites, or Internet mapping tools as long as the image, map, location, distance, calculation, or other information indicates the date on which the information was created.
The party intending to offer this evidence must file a notice of intent within a reasonable time or within the time defined by a court order. The notice of intent must include a copy of the information along with the location of information where a party can access and inspect it.
Once the notice of intent is filed in a civil case, section 90.2035 creates a rebuttable presumption that this information sought to be judicially noticed should be judicially noticed and entered into evidence. But, the opposing party may overcome this rebuttable presumption if the court finds, by the greater weight of the evidence, that the information does not fairly and accurately portray what it is being offered to prove, or that it otherwise should not be admitted into evidence under the Florida Evidence Code. If the opposing party fails to overcome the rebuttable presumption, the court must take judicial notice of the information and admit it into evidence.
While an image from a satellite imaging and mapping imaging service may be worth a thousand words, those thousand words could be useless if a party cannot get that image into evidence at trial. Come July 1, 2022, section 90.2035 streamlines that image into evidence, ensuring those thousand words get communicated to the jury.