The trend toward the use of social media has permeated every aspect of our lives. The legal system seems to be following this trend. Defense attorneys have been successful in presenting social media posts and pictures as evidence in personal injury cases. They are using social media as a source of discovery.
Insurance adjustors and defense attorneys regularly search through information on social media websites. They are hoping to find evidence that will go against the opposing party's claim of injury. Personal injury attorneys are currently advising their clients to cancel their social media accounts. Apparently, setting their social media posts to private is not enough to keep their privacy intact. In fact, if a personal injury client posts anything to do with an accident on a social media website, it can be treated as evidence in court.
In the Pennsylvania case of Zimmerman v. Weis Markets Inc., the judge ordered the plaintiff to provide the court with the login information for his social media account. The court reasoned that since the public portions of his Facebook and MySpace accounts showed evidence of his injury, a discovery of the remaining private postings were likely to contain similar information. The court made this decision because the man had profile pictures of himself on Facebook and MySpace. In one of the pictures, he is shown wearing shorts that happened to expose a scar from his accident.
In the New York case of Romano v. Steelcase Inc., a judge entitled defense attorneys access to the private MySpace and Facebook pages of a plaintiff who claimed to be confined to her home because of her injuries. The profile picture on one of her social media accounts depicted her standing outdoors. The court decided that because the public portions of her social networking accounts contained evidence that was contradictory to her claims, the private portions of her accounts would likely yield additional contradictory evidence. The profile picture could have been months or years before the accident. The defense pushed the idea that the woman maintained an active lifestyle, and she was not seriously injured.
Personal injury lawyers are concerned about the recent court rulings. Old pictures and statements can be misunderstood as current or relevant to a court case. Even if someone were to remove a picture from their social media account, it can still be used against them in court. Clients should understand that defense attorneys will stop at nothing in order to defeat personal injury claims. Even when the pictures fail to prove a claimant has been dishonest about their injuries, they can still be used in an attempt to mar their character.
Information from social media sites can cause juries to make value judgments on plaintiffs. For instance, a picture that shows a plaintiff drinking and partying is a common tactic to sway a jury. Once the jury sees the picture, they tend to award the plaintiff less money. Due to the public profiles of many of their clients, Los Angeles personal injury attorney's have long been cognizant of the risks of poor public exposure during trial. While this isn't news for any personal injury attorney, the proliferation of social media information has increased the risk of accidental self-incrimination (or apparent incrimination).
Although the law is still evolving in this area, making any public communication about health or injuries is a mistake when proceeding with a personal injury claim. The information gleaned from social media websites can cause substantial harm to a claimant's credibility; ultimately, it can cause them to lose their case. Until the laws surrounding personal injury and social media are clearly defined, victims of personal injury should remove their social media accounts before filing a claim for compensation.