If you’ve been injured in an accident and are currently seeking compensation from an insurance company or another liable party, chances are that you probably tend to share details about the case and your injuries with family, friends, and others. We live in an age of shared experiences, after all, as social media makes it even easier than ever for all of us to do what we see reality television stars do on a daily basis: document even the most intimate details of our lives online and share them with the world. For anyone involved in a personal injury case, however, this can be a serious mistake. If you’re one of the 2.2 billion people using these social platforms, then you need to know how social media can ruin your personal injury case!
Social Media Privacy Not What You Think
The problem is that most people just assume that their social media accounts are never going to be seen by anyone other than their invited friends and family. Many litigants have even made that argument in courts around the country, suggesting that their right to privacy should trump their legal opponents’ right to discovery. For example, some litigants have noted that their private postings to Facebook are only viewable by their designated “friends” and thus should be considered as “not public.”
Those arguments have been routinely rejected by judges who have found that the very act of sharing information online negates any reasonable expectation for privacy where shared content is concerned. As a result, courts evaluate the discoverability of a litigants’ social media content using standard criteria and without respect to any imagined privacy concerns. Relevancy to the case is often the determining factor. That will certainly come as a shock to the 72% of adults in the United States who regularly use the Facebook platform.
How Can Your Social Media Harm Your Case?
Think about the type of posts you generally place on your social media accounts? Do you typically talk about how you’re just lying around doing nothing? Do you post pictures of you looking miserable in a chair? Or do you do what most people do on social media and discuss the exciting or interesting things that you’ve done? Chances are that your posts trend toward interesting material and that your photos are usually something other than pictures of you writhing in pain.
Here’s the problem: if you do any of the following things, you could be giving the defendant in your case the ammunition he needs to defeat or mitigate your claims:
- Do you post happy pictures of yourself?
- Are you posting detailed accounts of how you feel each day?
- Are you using social media to keep everyone updated about your recovery efforts?
- Are there pictures of you out with friends or family, or engaged in physical activity of some sort?
- Were you so injured that you cannot even sit at your work desk, but still somehow find a way to post online throughout the day?
- Are you writing about your personal injury case on a regular basis?
If you’re engaged in any of those activities, you should ask yourself how those things would look to a jury of your peers. Is there a jury that would believe that you are so injured that you deserve compensation when they can see pictures of you racing through the snow on a snowmobile or partying at the local club? Will they believe you if you are writing about nothing but happy things every day? Not a chance. All of that oversharing will do nothing but provide the defense with new and controversial information that can be used to create a negative impression of you in the mind of the jurors.
Thus, opposing counsel could, after seeing such publicly available postings, motion for discovery access to other Facebook posts that may not be so readily accessible to the public. That is a key point to remember. In most instances, the presence of such posts on your account page will meet the courts’ legal threshold for ordering you to provide greater access to your Facebook account and its content. If publicly available information on your account seems to contradict your legal claims, discovery will usually be allowed.
The real harm, however, doesn’t come from the defense obtaining your posts, but from the jury’s interpretation of their meaning. If your claim suggests that you’ve suffered severe injuries as a result of the defense’s negligence and the jury is presented with evidence suggesting that you enjoy a variety of physical activities and remain generally active, they are unlikely to see you as a truly injured party. Your posts could end up making the defense’s entire argument against compensation.
Reining in Your Social Media
Statistics show that roughly 70% of Facebook users log into their account on a daily basis. If you’re among that number, it might be tough to resist the temptation to put your account on hold in the wake of a personal injury, but you need to do so. And it’s not just Facebook. According to Pew, 52% of Americans use at least two social media sites regularly. To protect your legal interests, you should consider setting all social media aside the moment you know that you intend to file a legal action for compensation.
Here’s the thing you must remember in this age of instant communication and constant social interaction: you have to assume that every single word or image you share online is eventually going to be seen by defense counsel. Moreover, your social media accounts may provide the defense with a list of friends and associates whose accounts may be of interest as well, particularly if your injuries are a hot topic of discussion.
To prevent adverse effects from your use of social media, your best course of action is to simply forgo it altogether as your litigation proceeds. Instruct friends and family to avoid conversations online about your injuries or your case, and keep as much as you can to yourself. Most importantly, discuss all of these matters with your attorney and carefully follow any advice that he or she offers on the subject. Remember, there will be plenty of time to catch up with those social media accounts once your case is over.