Social Media’s Impact on Personal Injury Cases
According to statista.com, in 2015 73 percent of Americans had a social media profile. Of that number, there are 1.44 billion monthly active users of Facebook, over a billion YouTube subscribers, 236 million monthly active Twitter users and 77 million Americans are active on Instagram.
Now that social media has become the go-to place to share our lives with others through photographs and/or videos, it’s no surprise that it has become an important part of personal injury case investigations.
Let’s be very clear: If you have been involved in an accident and are claiming injury, the insurance company will search your name on the Internet for personal information they can use to limit or deny your claim. For many clients, the most significant threat to a claim is their presence on social media.
That smiling photo of you at Aunt Jenny’s party. Photos of you and your children playing at the park. Videos from the vacation your husband took you on to regroup after your accident. Any photos and/or videos posted on or after the date of your accident could potentially be used against you as evidence that your injuries aren’t as severe as you stated in your claim. It’s not just your personal photos – when others tag you in their photos, those images become searchable as well.
A recent article in Forbes magazine reported, “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.”
The article cited a recent case where a woman claims she suffered personal injuries and emotional distress from a slip-and-fall at Target. On appeal, the appellant court determined that: “If a photograph is worth a thousand words, there is no better portrayal of what an individual’s life was like than those photographs the individual has chosen to share through social media before the occurrence of an accident causing injury. Such photographs are the equivalent of a ‘day in the life’ slide show produced by the plaintiff before the existence of any motive to manipulate reality.”
So, what’s the best course of action if you’re filing a personal injury claim and you want to continue to be active on social media?
1. Limit your social media use. If you’re not sure whether something could affect your case, your best bet is to remove yourself from social media until your case is settled.
2. Don’t post videos or photos related to your accident, injuries and/or recovery and don’t comment on others’ posts about your accident. Ask friends and family to refrain from posting about your accident or tagging you in photos.
3. Before you file a claim, carefully examine your account and remove any posts that put you in a negative light and could be detrimental to your case. For instance, if you are filing a claim related to an auto accident, remove any posts related to speeding while driving, feeling angry while driving, etc.
4. Research how to maximize privacy settings on each of your social media accounts. Whenever possible, adjust settings so you can approve what’s posted to your page and who is friend-ing or following you. If you don’t recognize someone who has requested to connect with you in social media, deny the request.
5. Search your name online. You may be surprised what you find when you type your name into a Google or Bing search bar. If you find something incriminating, remove it if possible. Be sure to share everything you uncover with your attorney.
Finally, we always advise our clients to be open and honest about their injuries and about how an accident has affected their work and personal lives. Dishonesty in personal injuries cases can amount to fraud, which is very serious matter.
If you or a family member would like to file a personal injury claim, we welcome you to contact us for a free initial consultation with one of our injury expert attorneys. A consultation will give you the opportunity to discuss the incident with an experienced professional and to learn about your legal options with no upfront cost.