Social media is an integral part of American life. Social networking and photo sharing platforms are so common that most people don’t think twice about “checking in” to a location or posting daily updates. For accident victims working with a personal injury lawyer, however, social media poses great risks.
Minimizing those risks is hard, given the widespread and frequent use of social media. The Pew Research Center studies social media use and reports that over 70% of Americans use social media platforms. People of all ages, genders, races, ethnic groups, incomes, and education use social media. And they use it often. For example, approximately 75% of Facebook users visit Facebook at least daily. At least 67% of Americans obtain some of their news through social media.
The personal injury lawyers at Reiner, Slaughter & Frankel, LLP suggest that clients avoid social media until injury claims are resolved. Several potential problems can arise if accident victims use social media while their case is pending.
Lawyers and investigators routinely check social media posts in personal injury cases
Lawyers in a personal injury case can obtain anything a person publicly posts on the internet. This includes information shared by the parties and by other people. Many photos and posts contain geolocation data, revealing a great deal of information about a person’s daily activities. This information can help or hurt a case.
If you have been hurt in an accident, insurance company representatives will look for evidence that your pain and anguish are not as severe as you portray. Social media is a great way to find out how you spend your days. Investigators will look at your social media feeds including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Foursquare. They will look for any posts, photos or videos that mention or tag you. They will comb through your friends’ and followers’ social media platforms for anything they can find about you. Comments that people make on your public pages or in response to a tweet or post are also informative.
Insurance companies want to know:
- Do pictures show you smiling or engaged in regular activities?
- Do you appear to have an active social life?
- What locations does your geo-data show you visited?
- Have you shared information about your accident claims?
- Are you participating in activities that might aggravate your injuries?
The insurance company will scour the internet for any evidence that contradicts your personal injury claims.
Insurance defense lawyers may use your social media posts against you
The insurance defense lawyers will try to minimize your insurance payout by showing that your injuries aren’t as bad as you claim. They will look for evidence to support their story that you are exaggerating your injuries. If you post anything on social media that others could interpret as contradicting your claims, they will use it against you.
Many accident victims experience emotional distress and pain and suffering because of the accident’s negative impact on everyday life. For example, anxiety following an auto accident may prevent a mother from driving children to activities. Depression following a car wreck may prevent a person from engaging in hobbies or going out with family or friends.
The following examples illustrate how social media can complicate your personal injury case.
- Sally seeks compensation for emotional distress because she has been afraid to drive ever since a car crash. She says she is stuck at home unless someone else can take her places. However, her social media posts reveal that she visits multiple locations in any given week. The insurance company will ask how Sally is getting to all those locations if she can’t drive. Sally is put on the defensive because she must respond to their inquiries and insinuation that she is lying.
- John claims that his quality of life has been greatly diminished after a traumatic accident. He says the resulting depression has ruined his social life and keeps him isolated at home. However, a friend posts a picture of John smiling at an event during the time that John is alleging he avoids social gatherings. The insurance company uses this as evidence that John’s social life has not been harmed. Even though the event was a once-in-a-lifetime 50th wedding anniversary party that John forced himself to attend, and it was the only time he has gone out since the accident, that one photo can create doubt about John’s claims.
When social media activity raises doubts about your claims or your honesty, the insurance company will seek additional information to verify the suspicions. This might include asking the court to grant access to your social media accounts. Courts have found that a party’s social media information, including information generally considered private, can be revealed to the other party in some situations.
Courts might find you have waived confidentiality
Broadly speaking, anything you share with your attorney about your case is considered confidential. To keep it confidential, you, as the client, cannot share that information with other people. This means you can’t tell your best friend your lawyer’s advice about the case and you can’t bring someone else to meetings with your lawyer. An experienced personal injury lawyer will explain any exceptions to these general rules.
You also cannot share information through social media. That counts as telling someone else your confidential information. “Sharing” includes:
- commenting on your case
- talking about your injuries
- posting photos or videos about the accident
- posting photos or videos of your injuries, treatment or recovery
- discussing other people involved in the accident
- speculating about the outcome of the case
- talking about what you will do with your settlement money
- revealing anything that you have discussed privately with your attorney.
If you share your confidential information with anyone but your lawyer, that information is no longer confidential. That means the other party in the lawsuit can find out about it and use it to their advantage.
Steps for social media use following a personal injury
Given the prevalence of social media in everything we do, it is understandable that it affects personal injury lawsuits. Accident victims often do not know how their regular social media activity can hurt their claims. Reiner, Slaughter & Frankel, LLP’s experienced personal injury lawyers in Redding, California, help clients understand the impact of social media on a case.
Every situation is different, but accident victims can take the following preventative actions. The most important thing you can do is consult with your attorney about your social media accounts.
- Stop all social media activity as soon as you are involved in an accident.
- Consider suspending all your social media accounts.
- Set all your social media privacy settings to the highest level of privacy available through each platform.
- Don’t add any new social media accounts, friends or followers.
- Don’t start following any new people or accounts.
- Ask all family and friends to refrain from commenting on your pages, mentioning you in social media, tagging you in photos, or sharing (posting/tweeting) anything about you.
- Tell your attorney about all your social media accounts and follow their advice about making any changes to them.
- Consult with your lawyer about whether you can delete or modify past posts or information.
- Consult with your attorney about disabling the geolocation capabilities on your smartphone apps.
If you have been hurt in an accident, Reiner, Slaughter & Frankel, LLP offer a free, individualized case consultation. Call 800-355-256 today or use the convenient online form to discuss your situation. We are available 24/7 and you are under no obligation after your call.