Social Media Can Pose A Problem In Injury Cases
Social media accounts are a great way to keep in touch with friends and share moments from your daily life. For years now, there have been many an article discussing the use of social media posts and tweets against a party in family law cases such as divorce proceeds. There have even been ethical issues that have popped up across the country where lawyers and their staff would friend an opposing party in a case to gain access to his or her Facebook pages to scan for useful information that could be used against the person in court.
Until recently, as a personal injury lawyer in Cumming ga representing injury victims throughout the State of Georgia, access a plaintiff’s social media accounts by defense attorneys have not really been pursued and I have not heard of such pursuit from other plaintiff’s attorneys in the field. This has remained an area of investigation typically left to family law cases. Recently however I read an article in a local lawyer publication discussing a work related accident case out of New Jersey where plaintiff’s social media accounts and various specific posts therein were pursued by the defense. What transpired in this case is a warning to all plaintiffs to be careful when posting to social media accounts after an accident and reminder to all to not even attempt to hide what may be perceived as damaging information in your case.
In the case, plaintiff claimed his injuries caused him to be permanently disabled, unable to work and in such a poor physical condition that his social activities had been limited. Defense counsel sought in discovery documents including all wall posts, comments, status updates or personal information posted or made by Plaintiff on Facebook and any other social media account for several years post accident. While at first blush the request by defense counsel appears overly broad, it certainly could yield good evidence to contradict plaintiff’s assertions regarding his disability and its affects on his daily life and thus was properly discoverable in the case.
While the facts of why it happened where disputed by both sides, it turns out that after the request by defense counsel for the social media information was received by the plaintiff, plaintiff deactivated his Facebook account which in turn automatically destroyed all posts to the site. In moving for sanctions for destroying the evidence, defense counsel asserted that the Facebook account would have revealed evidence that the plaintiff was not as disabled as claimed having taken many trips and been engaged in numerous social activities since the accident and having posted about all of these activities to his account. The judge in the case agreed with defense counsel that the destruction of the account and thus the posts was sanctionable to the extent that the defense was allowed the legal inference at trial in front of the jury that had the posts not been destroyed they would have shown that the plaintiff had taken a number of trips and engaged in numerous social activities. This development will likely be a large blow to the plaintiff’s ability to persuade the jury that he was severely injured in the accident to the extent that it has caused permanent injuries and disabilities affect various aspects of his daily life.
This case is a good example for future plaintiffs in personal injury cases in Georgia. First, do not attempt to prevent access to information by the defense, even if you are worried it could cause damage to your case. At the end of the day, the evidence is what it is in your injury case. You will end up doing more harm to your case by preventing access to relevant information. Most things can be properly explained to a jury.
Second, the advent of social media has created a situation where defense lawyers can learn more about a personal injury plaintiff’s life during litigation than they have ever been able to before. This can be a double edged sword for plaintiffs as illustrated in the above example. It is only a matter of time before the defense bar in personal injury cases start requesting social media evidence from a plaintiff on a routine basis. Therefore, it is wise for injury victims to limit the personal information they reveal on social media accounts after an injury. Anything you say may be used against you later in your injury case.
Source: Fulton County Daily Report, Monday April 1, 2013, page 11.