Social networking has become common-place among a large percentage of the American people. From the looks of things, it appears that social networking is here to stay and is progressing at a steady rate. Whether it be Facebook, Myspace, Twitter or another, people are willing to share or post even the most sensitive information with family and friends. Sometimes clients will unknowingly post incriminating pictures or comments that may contradict their own sworn testimony. The thought being that this “private” information is only viewable by friends and that outsiders will not have access to it. As outlined below, recent court decisions have allowed insurance companies complete access to social media where public information contradicts their own testimony.
In the Pennsylvania case of Zimmerman v. Weis Markets Inc., the judge ordered the plaintiff to provide the court with the login information for his social media account. The court reasoned that since the public portions of his Facebook and MySpace accounts showed evidence of his injury, a discovery of the remaining private postings were likely to contain similar information. The court made this decision because the man had profile pictures of himself on Facebook and MySpace. In one of the pictures, he is shown wearing shorts that happened to expose a scar from his accident.
In the New York case of Romano v. Steelcase Inc., a judge entitled defense attorneys access to the private MySpace and Facebook pages of a plaintiff who claimed to be confined to her home because of her injuries. The profile picture on one of her social media accounts depicted her standing outdoors. The court decided that because the public portions of her social networking accounts contained evidence that was contradictory to her claims, the private portions of her accounts would likely yield additional contradictory evidence. The profile picture could have been months or years before the accident. The defense pushed the idea that the woman maintained an active lifestyle, and she was not seriously injured.
Social media is now one of the first sources insurance companies check for information after a suit is filed. Insurance companies have access to Google, Yahoo!, Bing, and other search engines in an attempt to access any and all information they may be able to use against you. Anything on the web is fair game to the insurance company including posts or pictures regarding the facts or causation of the accident and the effects it has had upon the injured party.
The attorneys at Strong-Garner-Bauer P.C. strongly encourage clients to either take down their account or deactivate it indefinitely. If deactivation is not an option, then other steps may be taken to insure complete privacy.
– Immediately make your profile "private," and set all privacy settings to the highest level.
– Do not discuss your accident, injuries or treatment, including any prescribed medication, on these sites.
– Do not discuss activities you've engaged in, physical exertion, abilities and limitations, or any other information that may bear on what you can and cannot do because of your injuries-even in a way unrelated to the lawsuit.
– Remove all photographs and videos of you taken since your injury, and refrain from posting until your claim has been resolved.
– Be sure you know everybody who is your "friend." Do not accept friend requests from people you do not personally know.
– Review your friend list and block anyone you are not 100 percent confident you know and trust. The Defendant could pose as a friend to access your personal page or to place or obtain incriminating evidence that can negatively affect your lawsuit.