Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social media websites have rapidly become a means for millions of users to chat, email, and connect. Although these social networking sites can be wonderful tools to reconnect with distant loved ones, find old friends and make new ones, and make business connections, they are also the easiest means for disclosing one’s entire life online. While this may seem innocent, when it comes to your personal injury lawsuit, social media sites could be your worst enemy.
In 2011, a woman was the passenger in an auto accident in which a van failed to yield causing the driver of the Ford Taurus which she was riding in to slam into the van. The woman suffered a concussion, forehead laceration that left a scar, and a broken arm which required plates and screws. She filed a lawsuit alleging driver negligence and negligence on the part of his employer. The woman sought damages for injuries incurred and the loss of wages; she claimed the injuries inhibited her from her job as a hair stylist.
Unfortunately, the woman jeopardized her case by posting comments on Twitter about vacationing with friends and posting pictures of herself on the beach, partying, and carrying a handbag with the injured arm. These posts and pictures gave the impression that she was not as injured as she claimed; the jury returned a $237,000 verdict—apportioned down to $142,000 with no award for punitive damages.
Everyone, especially those involved in a personal injury lawsuit, should be careful what they post on these sites – it is the “worldwide web”. What you post and disclose may be used against you in a court of law; even a seemingly innocent comment. A good example of this is using Facebook to let family and friends know you are doing okay after an auto accident so they don’t worry. Posting that you just have some cuts and bruises, but will be back to work in a few days could be used against you by the defense. Think your privacy settings are enough? Think again. Even with the maximum privacy settings, defense attorneys and insurance companies will make every effort to gather information to support their case. Get the message? What about those family members and friends who want to let others know you are okay? If they post information about your accident, it can also hurt your case. Bottom line – nothing is secure and private on the internet so the best advice is to disclose nothing regarding your case, including pictures of that vacation you took to rest after your accident.
Many people don’t realize how exposed they are on social networking sites. After all, they are communicating with family, friends, and business acquaintances, not the general public. Whether you are in a lawsuit or not, always assume that anything you post can be seen by anyone. Clicking "private" does not insure privacy and deleting messages or pictures does not make them disappear; if subpoenaed, the web host can most likely recover the posts.
Attorney, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Betrayal Series. Mark Bello is also a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.