Metadata, or data about data, can uncover a multitude of information about all types of electronic data, including but not limited to digital photographs. In Knoderer v. State Farm Lloyds, et al., No. 06-13-00027-CV (Ct.App. Tx. 6th Dist. Sept. 19, 2014), a residential insurance dispute, both sides accused the other of altering photographic evidence of a pipe leak. The trial court found that Knoderer, the claimant, had altered photographs and therefore entered discovery sanctions deemed a “procedural death sentence,” meaning entering a judgment in favor of State Farm and monetary fines over one million dollars against Knoderer.
During discovery of the underlying claim, Knoderer had provided six digital photographs in paper form, PDF format, in PDF format with printed metadata, and in JPEG format with metadata deleted. Later and under court order, Knoderer provided the photographs in native format.
State Farm’s expert testified that, after examining the digital photographs and metadata in native form, that the “date/time” had been altered to appear as though it had been taken the day after the alleged pipe leak. Additionally, the metadata filed was set to “WRK,” which the expert testified was not available until after an update which occurred after the date Knoderer claimed the photo was taken. Finally, the expert testified the metadata revealed the shuttercount values confirmed a gap in the automated numbering, establishing a later date the pictures were taken.
Knoderer claimed that the metadata could be explained by corruption of the files. The trial court ordered Knoderer to not alter anything and to preserve and produce all hard drivers, CDs and flash drives containing the photographs. State Farm performed an examination and alleged that the files had been deleted and overridden by two types of scrubbing software on the hard drive. There was also a digital receipt on the computer from the purchase of the scrubbing software the day after the court ordered the hard drives to be preserved and produced.
The appeals court deferred to the trial court’s finding that State Farm’s expert on metadata was persuasive and that the photographs had, in fact, been altered. However, the appeals court did find the monetary sanctions to be excessive and reduced the amount of attorney fees and costs relating only to the sanctionable conduct, not the entire case.