Last week the US District Court of Appeals, 10th Circuit, affirmed a trial court’s ruling denying a motion for new trial based in part on newly discovered (post trial) social media evidence. Xiong vs. Knight Transportation, (D.C. No. 1:12-CV-01546-RBJ) (D. Colo. July 27, 2016). This decision illustrates the importance of performing a diligent and timely social media evidence investigation, most certainly before trial.
The case involved a major traffic collision, where a Knight Transportation truck collided with Plaintiff’s car, forcing it into the median where it overturned multiple times. Xiong suffered a spinal compression fracture from the accident. The Plaintiff, her family and friends all testified at trial that she incurred severe pain from her injuries, which impacted her social life and daily activities. The jury awarded Xiong $832,000.
After the trial, a paralegal employed by Knight Transportation’s counsel found a litany of Facebook evidence apparently showing Xiong taking a trip to Las Vegas, visiting nightclubs, attending a wedding and smiling happily with friends at restaurants. Based upon the results of this Facebook investigation, Knight Transportation’s counsel hired a private investigator to follow Xiong and record her daily activities, which led to even further evidence supporting the defense’s case.
Citing this newly discovered Facebook and Facebook-derived evidence, Defendant Knight Transportation filed a motion for new trial. However, the district court denied Knight Transportation’s motion, finding that “the new (Facebook) evidence could have been discovered before trial and Knight offered no justification for its failure to develop it earlier.” The appellate court upheld the trial court’s decision.
A key apparent flaw in Knight Transport’s social media investigation, as suggested by the court’s written opinion, was that the investigation team seemingly only realized after it was too late that a Facebook page maintained by Plaintiff’s cousin contained social media evidence relevant to the case. This illustrates the importance of not only performing a timely social media investigation, but one that utilizes proper technology to enable a scalable and cost-efficient effort that is not limited to a small number of screen captures.
When rudimentary tools such as web browsers and print screen are used, social media investigations are indeed burdensome, costly and inefficient. A single publically available Facebook account may take hours to review manually, and may often require over 100 screen captures to collect with manual processes. This limits the ability to branch out to other sources of publically available information, such as key friends, spouses and, as in this case, a close cousin.
However, with the right software, such investigations can be the foundation of a very scalable, efficient and highly accurate process. Instead of requiring hours to manually review and collect a public Facebook account, the right specially designed software, like X1 Social Discovery, can collect all the data in minutes into an instantly searchable and reviewable format.
So as with any form of digital investigation, feasibility (as well as professional competence) often depends on utilizing the right technology for the job. As law firms, law enforcement, eDiscovery service providers and private investigators all work social discovery investigations into standard operating procedures, it is critical that best practices technology is incorporated to get the job done.