Social media apps and websites are almost certainly a part of your day-to-day life. Every generation uses some form of social media regularly these days to stay connected to family and friends, after all. But as fun as social media can be, it might also become a source of serious frustrations and headaches if you overuse or misuse it while you have a pending personal injury lawsuit.
As surprising as it might seem, social media posts have been entering the courtroom more and more in recent years. The attorneys for plaintiffs and defendants alike can find opportunities to further their arguments using recent posts, which means you need to be aware of what your posts are saying or revealing about you.
Social Posts Increasingly Used as Legal Evidence
You can switch your social media preferences to private and make it more difficult for people who are not your friends to see what you post. Private does not mean confidential, though, especially not in legal contexts.
Everything that you post on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, or on any other social media site is recorded, stored elsewhere, and could conceivably be used against you in legal action. Even after you delete something you have posted, it is still on a remote drive or server somewhere. Therefore, it may still be available for retrieval if a law enforcement agency or a court of law wants to examine it. In fact, legal evidence discovered on social media sites is now playing an increasing role in criminal prosecutions, divorce proceedings, and personal injury cases in California, across the country, and even in other nations.
Insurance “Spies” on Social Media
Insurance companies and their defense lawyers routinely hire investigators to spy on injured claimants and plaintiffs. In the past, the snooping would mostly take place in person, such as leaving a private investigator outside the claimant’s home. Today, internet sleuths are working most often with insurance companies and conducting investigations without ever leaving their living rooms.
The goal of their social media spying is to find footage or photographs that could be used to make injured claimants look dishonest about their injuries and limitations. For example, imagine if your back and legs were hurt in a car accident, so you could no longer go to work without pain. You decide to join your family at a restaurant to celebrate a relative’s birthday, but you are in a wheelchair and pain the whole time. A social media sleuth could find a post that tags you at the restaurant and try to argue that you were out, about, and having a great time, i.e. exaggerating the debilitating pain caused by your injuries. Although you know the truth, the court does not, and a single social media post could undo your entire claim.
Avoid Posting on Social Media
In general, it is a good idea to avoid posting anything online while your lawsuit or injury claim is pending. An experienced sleuth can find a way to manipulate or misrepresent almost any post to hurt your claim. Do not give them the tools they need to dismantle your own case. Do not post anything, and they will not have that opportunity.
Many people with pending claims prefer to let a trusted friend or family member lock their social media accounts for the time being. What you can do is ask your friend to change your account’s password and write down the new password somewhere secure that you cannot access. When the case concludes, your friend tells you that password, which you can then change to whatever you like.
Real-World Examples of Social Media Posts as Evidence
Consider these two distinct examples of social media being used in a legal setting:
- Anthony murder trial: Probably the most famous example to date of social media content becoming legal evidence is the 2011 Orlando trial of Casey Anthony for the alleged murder of her infant daughter. Although she eventually obtained a not guilty verdict, the online photographs that emerged of Ms. Anthony apparently enjoying herself at parties only days after her daughter's death certainly did not help her defense or her public image. Time magazine called Ms. Anthony's case the "Social-Media Trial of the Century," but with the growing popularity of smartphones and other devices that encourage easy sharing on social media websites, there will probably be a more dramatic case in the near future.
- Partying while depressed: Another recent case in Canada suggests legal implications for plaintiffs around the globe concerning social media use amid a legal conflict. After being hurt in two separate traffic collisions, a young Canadian woman named Sarah Tambosso testified that she was suffering from depression. But in 2015, a British Columbia Supreme Court judge dismissed Ms. Tambosso's personal injury claim after seeing certain Facebook posts and doubting her sincerity. Evidence brought forth by the opposing counsel included almost 200 pages found on Ms. Tambosso's Facebook page showing photographs of her going to parties, drinking and river tubing with friends, singing karaoke, and more, which are all activities, according to the court, that are "completely inconsistent" with her serious psychological depression. Even though many would argue this is an ignorant interpretation of what it means to be depressed, the ruling has still been upheld.
Social Media & Violation of Confidentiality Provisions
In many personal injury settlements, the insurance companies will demand a confidentiality provision in exchange for the payment of damages. A confidentiality provision keeps the party obtaining compensation from discussing certain aspects of the case like the settlement total with anyone else. Violating a confidentiality provision after a personal injury settlement could result in an injury victim losing that compensation.
The plaintiff in one Florida discrimination case, for example, forfeited $80,000 after a settlement detail made its way to Facebook. The Gulliver Preparatory School in Miami reached a negotiated settlement with Patrick Snay with a confidentiality provision in the agreement. Mr. Snay's daughter posted a triumphal announcement on her Facebook page and disclosed the amount of the settlement to more than 1,000 of her Facebook friends. The Gulliver Preparatory School took the position that the confidentiality provision had been breached, the Florida Third District Court of Appeal agreed, and the Shay family never received a dime of the settlement.
File a Personal Injury Claim & Stay Off Social Media
None of these examples should keep you from filing a personal injury claim or lawsuit if you've been injured by the negligence of another. Instead, they should encourage you to stay away from social media while your case is unfolding and even after it concludes. To make the most of your claim and to gain a better understanding of how social media can influence it, you should work with a trusted local attorney who has seen cases much like yours in the past.
If you have been injured and need to file a claim in Agoura Hills, make Effres & Effres your first choice of representation. We have secured millions of dollars for our clients throughout the years, and we would like to see what is possible for your claim. Call (818) 222-9720 to arrange a free initial case review.