Smartphones And Social Media

© Can Stock Photo Inc.

© Can Stock Photo Inc.

The proliferation of smartphones and social media has fundamentally changed the way we interact, work, record events, and share information. We can now stay connected almost anywhere; while this is generally a positive development in communication, it can also potentially affect a parks and recreation department’s ability to control risk-management. For this reason, it’s important for risk managers in the industry to understand and address the issues associated with this technology.

Direct Risks

Accidents happen for a variety of reasons, including failure to pay attention. Undeniably, smartphones can be a distraction. Many recreational activities require a participant’s undivided attention or the use of both hands. Other activities entail sudden movements where items can fly out of participants’ pockets. When operating these types of activities, having expressed instructions and warnings precluding participants from using or carrying phones can help reduce potential liability exposure. Where an accident is caused by someone’s use of a smartphone—in violation of expressed instructions or warnings—it should be documented and preferably acknowledged in writing by the person using it.

Documenting The Scene

In litigation, the old saying holds true: “A picture is worth a thousand words.” For years, facility owners have used cameras to document accident scenes, and in several states, these photographs are protected as work product. Smartphones have leveled the playing field.

Smartphones come equipped with still cameras, video cameras, audio-recording devices, and note pads. There are now applications (apps) specifically designed to assist accident victims in documenting accident scenes and injuries for future litigation. These technological advancements can create powerful evidence for a claimant—such as pictures of broken playground equipment or an athletic field in poor condition.

Some personal-injury attorneys even provide instructions about how to effectively document an accident scene using smartphones to achieve a favorable settlement or judgment. Many personal-injury


attorneys hire investigators to visit accident sites and document allegedly dangerous conditions. Since smartphones are so common and inconspicuous, it can be difficult to identify these investigators when they come on the property to gather evidence.

If the accident victim documents the scene better than a premises owner or operator, it can cause major problems when litigation ensues. Therefore, guidelines should be developed to ensure that an accident scene is accurately and thoroughly documented. Accident investigation guidelines should include:

  • Providing detailed instructions about how to complete incident-report forms
  • Documenting observations; taking statements from the injured person, witnesses, and employees
  • Photographing and/or videotaping the scene
  • Collecting and preserving evidence, such as an allegedly defective product or surveillance video.

When an accident occurs during an event that spectators are videotaping, an attempt should be made to obtain a copy of the videos. If videos cannot be obtained, try to identify who was videotaping; it might be possible to obtain during litigation. Also, make note if an allegedly injured person seems too anxious about documenting an accident scene. For example, is the injured person, who is claiming an injured back, walking around and bending down to take photographs of a condition, without any sign of injury?

Reputation Risks

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