Most of us who enjoy using Facebook and other online social media sites do so to share important parts of our lives with family and friends. While social media can be convenient and useful as well as entertaining, remember that no matter what you do to adjust the "privacy" settings, everything that you post on Facebook, Twitter, or on any other social media site is recorded, stored somewhere, and could conceivably be used against you in a legal action. Even after you delete something you've posted, it may still be available 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.
Social media is not going away, and the information that is being shared online is influencing our lives, our relationships, our culture, and the law. For example, insurance companies and their defense lawyers routinely hire investigators to spy on injured claimants and plaintiffs. The goal is to find footage or photographs that could be used to make injured folks look dishonest about their injuries and limitations. Now, in addition to hiring private investigators, the insurance companies and their defense lawyers use social media. Injured folks should be careful about what they post online. An innocent conversation or joke among friends could be embarrassing when taken out of context and displayed on a big screen in open court.
If you are injured by someone else's negligence and you need to obtain compensation for your medical care and other injury-related expenses, you may need to learn how social media - and the evidence that can be found there - can impact a personal injury lawsuit. An experienced California personal injury lawyer can examine all of the details of your particular case and give you the advice and counsel that you'll need to prevail. In general, it is a good idea to avoid posting anything online while your lawsuit is pending. Several of the cases discussed here will show you why most personal injury attorneys are now making that recommendation.
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 smart phones, GoPro cameras, and other devices that encourage "sharing" on social media websites, that was probably a premature call. In the few years since the Casey Anthony trial, more social media content is becoming courtroom evidence; and plays a role in many legal and evidentiary proceedings.
In those same years, however, the people using social media have also grown somewhat more cautious. Most of us are now aware that prospective employers look at our Facebook pages, so most people have learned to avoid posting colorful language or unflattering photographs. However, if you've been injured by someone else's negligence and you file a personal injury lawsuit, almost anything that you post on Facebook or anywhere else on the internet could put your claim in jeopardy. One recent case in Canada suggests some implications that should be considered and fully understood by plaintiffs making insurance claims and filing personal injury lawsuits here in the United States.
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. The Canadian judge cited his doubts about the young woman's credibility. Those doubts were based entirely on Ms. Tambosso's Facebook posts. Evidence brought forth by the opposing counsel included almost two hundred pages found on Ms. Tambosso's Facebook "wall" showing photographs of her going to parties, drinking and river tubing with friends, and singing karaoke - activities, according to the court, that are "completely inconsistent" with her serious psychological depression.
If you are injured by the negligence of another person or entity and if you obtain compensation, you may also need to be aware of another important concern regarding social media. 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 the compensation from discussing certain aspects of the case with anyone else, commonly including the amount of the settlement. Violating a confidentiality provision after a personal injury settlement could result in an injury victim losing everything that he or she has fought so hard to recover.
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 in November 2011. Mr. Snay was agreed to settle his age discrimination claim for $80,000. However, a confidentiality provision in the agreement prevented Snay from disclosing to anyone "directly or indirectly" the amount, terms, or conditions of the settlement agreement.
Unfortunately, Mr. Snay's daughter posted a triumphal announcement on her Facebook page and disclosed the amount of the settlement to more than a thousand of her Facebook "friends." The Gulliver Preparatory School took the position that the confidentiality provision had been breached. Florida's Third District Court of Appeal agreed, and the Shay family never received the settlement they had fought for so long and diligently.
None of these examples should keep you from filing a personal injury insurance claim or lawsuit if you've been injured by the negligence of another person or entity. The best way to protect yourself is to be careful about what you share online. If you are injured by someone who was negligent and you have to file a personal injury claim to make it right, avoid posting anything online until your case settles. Following the settlement, simply remember to keep the details to yourself. Know that the insurance companies and their defense lawyers will use what you post to try to limit your compensation every step of the way.