Everyone uses social media these days. Well, almost everybody. The Pew Research Center reports that as of 2015, 65% of adults use some form of social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube . And just 6 months later, that number has surely risen.
So, what could Twitter possibly have to do with your personal injury claim? Probably a lot more than you think. Everyone knows that evidence is essential to any trial, for both sides, and no place provides more of it than social media.
If you have recently initiated a personal injury claim, or will in the near future, it's a good idea to monitor your social media accounts. Understandably, it is common for people—especially when experiencing a major life event like an accident or injury—to want to share that experience on social media. It has always been human nature to communicate; it is one of those unique things that makes us different from other animals. But if you get the urge to share your ordeal through social media, you should think twice before you do.
When you are involved in an accident and seeking compensation for your injuries, you should be aware of both sides of the equation—both what is expected of you and what the other side will be doing, also.
As the injured party, it will be up to you to show evidence that you are undeniably injured. This will usually require you to produce medical records, expert and specialist testimony, witnesses of the event, and friends and family who can testify to what you were like before the accident and how the incident affected your life. Your attorney will help you at each stage to gather this information.
You should be aware that for every piece of evidence you collect, the defense attorneys will be collecting a piece of evidence to counter it. The defense may first outright deny your claim or injuries. Then, of course, they will try to show that they are not liable or responsible for your injuries. If these initial strategies don't succeed, then they will inevitably resort to minimizing your pain and suffering. Everything from the level of pain that you are in, to the amount of physical suffering you have endured, can and will be brought into question.
This is where social media comes in. It used to be very difficult for an attorney to find evidence that could counter someone's claim of anxiety, for example. Likewise, it was difficult for an attorney to show that someone was not depressed. Now, with social media, a simple photo of you laughing and drinking with friends will strongly bring into question claims of depression and anxiety. To a jury, it may be hard to believe you're in a state of mental anguish while there is clearly “proof” of you laughing with your friends during a night on the town. Although the outing may have been a one-time thing—an attempt by your friends to get you out of your funk and you were just playing along—the court and jury may see things differently.
Anything posted to social media is considered social domain, in which you have no reasonable expectation of privacy.
Every tweet you send out, photo you share on Instagram or status updated on Facebook could possibly be used against you. Although not everything is technically admissible, the attorney will at least try since the information is so easily gathered.
The advent of social media is like an attorney's dream come true. The information is timestamped so they know when it was taken. It is in chronological order. It contains information about who was there at the time. There is usually a location attached to the photo. And most people comment on their own posts, providing the defense with unequivocal proof about what you were thinking when you posted it. And best (or worst) of all, it's all neatly packaged in one place, accessible from the attorney's couch.
Now that you are aware how dangerous it can be to post on social media during a personal injury claim, here are some definite DON'Ts when it comes to your case and social media:
- Don't post anything about your claim or accident. This includes meetings with your attorney, doctor's visits, and any interactions with your insurance company.
- Don't post photos or videos of your injury or damage. Although it may be tempting to show your friends how bad the wreck was, or the crazy-looking bruise on your hip, resist the temptation.
- Don't reply to anyone else's post about your situation. If you happen to see a post about your injury or accident on social media, do not reply. In fact, contact that person (outside of social media) and ask them to not discuss your case.
- Do change your privacy settings so that only friends can find and view your profile. You should already have your settings on private so that scammer and weirdos aren't privy to all your information, but if it is not, definitely do so. You don't want to make it easy for people—especially the defense—to comb through your information.
- Do tell friends and family not to post anything about your situation. There is a good chance that your friends and family will know about the accident. Be sure to tell them explicitly not to post anything about your injuries, accident, or life in general on social media. This includes ANY photos, videos, status updates, etc. For example, a status update posted by your sister, that said, “Went out dancing with my lil' sis tonight. So much fun!” could be extremely damaging to your case. Even if you didn't at all.
- Do remove anything from the past that could hurt your claim. Before your case goes to litigation, remove anything that you wouldn't want the whole world to see from your social media. Later, the defense may ask the judge to prevent you from making any changes to your accounts, so you should do it before things go that far.
In a recent case in British Columbia, a woman was in two car accidents and decided to seek damages. She claimed that, as a result of her injuries, her life was in complete ruin.
“I'm not a happy person. My life sucks,” said Sarah Tambosso, the plaintiff .
The defense argued that anyone who is going out to bars with friends, riding jet skis with a group of people, and singing karaoke in public, very much has a social life.
In an age discrimination case in Miami, Florida, the headmaster of a private school filed suit against his former employer when they failed to renew his contract, allegedly because of his old age. The jury agreed and the school was ordered to pay him what he was owed. Part of the agreement—worth $10,000 in lost wages, $80,000 in severance, and $60,000 in attorney's fees–was an order of confidentiality from the plaintiff in the award of his settlement (meaning he was not to speak of the case's outcome). After the case was won, the man's daughter immediately took to Facebook to gloat.
She wrote, "Mama and Papa Snay won the case against Gulliver. Gulliver is now officially paying for my vacation to Europe this summer. SUCK IT."
Just as one would expect, the daughter was a former student and had lots of friends on Facebook that were current and past students of the school. News quickly spread back to the staff, and of course to the school's attorneys, who then promptly filed a motion for breach of contract.
Clearly, the confidentiality clause was broken when the daughter told all of Facebook about the outcome.
In another case, a woman sought damages after she was involved in a car accident. She claimed she was so injured she was unable to continue working as a hairstylist. The jury agreed with her claim and she was awarded $237,000 for her medical bills, pain and suffering, and other costs. Before the case was officially closed, the defense acquired photos of her vacationing on a beach and partying in New Orleans. The settlement was reduced to $142,000, effectively costing the plaintiff $95,000. That is a lot of money to lose because she couldn't keep away from Twitter while her case was in litigation.
The lesson that should be learned here is that during a personal injury claim, it is best to avoid social media altogether. At the very least, you should limit your social media presence tremendously. And be sure that your privacy settings are as strong as possible. This way, you can avoid anything that may come between you and the compensation you deserve.
If you feel that you have a personal injury claim and need help making your life whole again, contact the Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA at 727-451-6900 and speak with a qualified attorney today. We always provide a free evaluation of your case. We also work on a contingency fee, meaning if you don't recover for your losses, you don't owe us anything.
Until then, stay safe and keep a close eye on your social media accounts.