The internet, or more specifically, the world-wide web and its social properties, are typically not private. Yet, all too many people involved in personal injury cases make the mistake of believing that their user profiles, be it Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, Instagram, or other social platforms, are. After all, they have their privacy settings locked-down tightly and only friends can see what they are posting, keeping away the prying eyes of friends-of-friends, and of course, the public.
If it were only that straightforward, many personal injury cases would go more smoothly, but unfortunately, that's not the way it works when it comes to the law. In fact, you'd probably be surprised what insurance companies and other defendants will do to disprove or damage a case. Social media is evermore becoming a useful tool for insurance companies to do just that and what's most ironic, is the fact that plaintiffs are the ones unwittingly potentially sabotaging their own claims.
We've all seen examples in the news. A person is fired for posting something on social media. The police are lead directly to a suspect who arrogantly posted a picture. The fact of the matter is, social media is now used to evaluate people for a variety of things and what's known in the legal world as "discovery" is no different.
Insurance Investigators Using Social Media to Their Benefit
When you suffer a personal injury and have a claim, you become an immediate liability to the defendant. The way many insurance companies see it, you're trying to pick away from their profit margin. Even when you have suffered a legitimate injury and it's well documented, insurance carriers will probably not just pay you what you deserve. Commonly they do whatever is necessary to pay out as little as possible.
You may be surprised that virtually everything we post to social media may be discoverable in litigation. Information "relevant" to the litigation generally should be available to litigation opponents. In personal injury cases, when plaintiffs allege they experienced "pain and suffering" or "emotional distress," every comment and photo on Facebook might disprove these alleged harms, making them potentially relevant. --Forbes.com
During a personal injury case, you'll will be under constant scrutiny. Plaintiffs need to be aware of this fact because it can make or break their cases. There are many examples of this happening throughout the past several years.
For instance, let's play-out a hypothetical: a plaintiff claims a back injury prevents him or her from doing activities he or she loves, like dancing and outdoor recreation. However, after perusing his or her Facebook profile, an investigator finds photos of the plaintiff tripping the lights fantastic on the dance floor; or, discovers a video of him or her mountain biking. What's more, the plaintiff also claimed that his or her injuries caused a loss of wages due to missed days at work. That is, until the investigators find their post gripping about a specific situation at work, involving a manager, a supervisor, or a customer on the very day he or she supposedly missed.
The Do's and Don'ts about Social Media and Your Personal Injury Case
You must use your utmost discretion when using social media during a personal injury case. It's little wonder why insurance investigators use social media to discover evidence that lessens or negates a plaintiff's claim. There are an astounding 1.35 billion Facebook users, 284 monthly active users on Twitter, 300 million active monthly users on Google+, as well as 300 million active monthly users on Instagram.
That constitutes a treasure trove of information because it's not only you as the plaintiff investigators are interested in, but also your family, friends, and other connections. The defense is looking for conflicting statements, evidence that refutes your claims, exaggerations of previous statements you've made, and other types of evidence to potentially discredit your assertions about the severity of your injuries. With so much at stake, you ought to know the do's and don'ts about using social media during your personal injury case:
Do: consider if you should continue to utilize your social media profiles, as well as, your blog, if applicable. You might be involved in contributing to a blog or have a personal blog that you regularly update. If you do continue to use them, look very carefully at each post. Assume that the defendant's insurance company is reading each social media post. Is there anything that you posted that could in way be harmful to your pending case?
Just as there are steps you should take, there are also things which you should not do:
Don't: share any information about your case, whatever it might be, as you could inadvertently harm your claim. Ask your connections familiar with your condition to refrain from doing so as well.
Don't: post any information about the state of your ongoing recovery. Do not post status updates, photos, videos, or anything else about how you're healing or what the latest development is about your health.
Don't: try not to have connected family and friends post information about interactions they have with you such as check-ins, events, and even their own status updates.
Don't: try to post under a pseudonym (fake name) or old account. It isn't worth the risk to do so.
The point is, whatever you post on social media it is typically very public and you don't want it to potentially adversely impact your personal injury case. It's simply not worth it to take any chance. The internet isn't a private medium and insurance companies are more than willing to tap into the wealth of information you're leaving behind with every image, every video, every tag, and every comment. Be very careful about the information you share.