In recent years, legal guidelines have not been updated to reflect the changes made in technology, such as social media sites. Social media sites include popular websites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, MySpace, and Google+. Social media sites, in addition to being a way to keep in contact with friends and family, are also a way for lawyers to gather information about personal injury claims.
For those people who are pursuing a personal injury claim, it is becoming increasingly common for the defense to request the plaintiff's social media usernames and passwords. Even if the plaintiff refuses, a court order might force them to turn over their log-in information. With this knowledge, the defense can access your pictures, posts, friend activity, etc. to compile information about you that might be used in court. This may range from social habits, physical activity, and any travel the plaintiff might have done. Although this might not seem relevant, the information gathered may be used to argue that a person is more physically able than they let on (such as in the case of a personal injury claim) or that they might not be reliable (such as evidence of heavy drinking habits or illegal drug use). For this reason, along with many others, it is important to monitor your Facebook profile and really think before you post anything. Although you might have your privacy settings activated, they are not as effective as you might think and does not give you license to post anything you wish. Additionally, if you are not really injured or not as extensively injured as you let on, you should not be pursuing a personal injury claim in that line. A good rule of thumb is to remember that everything you post online could potentially be public information, so monitor your internet usage accordingly.
Information from Facebook and other social media sites is becoming increasingly popular to use in the "discovery" aspect of personal injury litigation. In recent years, several cases involving personal injury claims and social media have set the precedent for the admittance of social media into the courtroom for years to come. One of these cases involved an employee of Weis Supermarkets suing the company because he claimed to have suffered an injury to his knee while working. Although he did require surgery to correct his knee, he claimed that he could not participate in physical activity and never wore shorts because he was embarrassed by his surgical scar. Discovery material provided from Facebook resulted in pictures of the employee engaging in intense physical activity, as well as wearing shorts that plainly showed his surgical scar. Because the bulk of his case rested upon his inability to take part in the physical activities he had previously enjoyed, his case did not have much merit once the Facebook pictures were admitted as evidence.
This is just one of may cases in which social media had a negative impact on a client's personal injury claim. If you are pursuing a personal injury claim, you should be careful about what you choose to post on social media sites. Even if you are significantly injured, defense attorneys might try to twist what you write or update to compile a case against you. One picture, taken out of context, may cost you a significant amount of money in a personal injury case.
Attorney Doug Stoehr is a personal injury lawyer serving western and central Pennsylvania. For more information on his firm or to schedule a free initial consultation, please call his firm at 814-946-4100.