Facebook. MySpace. Twitter. YouTube. If you haven’t noticed already, these types of social interaction websites, commonly known as “social media”, are everywhere. Why have these sites and services become so popular? First of all, they are easy to access, whether from our computers at home or from our smart phones wherever we may be when we get the urge to “tweet”. They are also increasingly easy to use, allowing us to quickly share information about ourselves with our friends and family. While this ease of use is one of the factors making social media more attractive to us, if you have been injured in an automobile crash or from an accident at work, using social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter can do serious harm to your credibility and case if you decide to seek legal help from an attorney.
In a personal injury lawsuit, a case’s value depends largely upon the verifiability of injuries an accident victim suffers. Medical records, doctor diagnoses and treatments are a few types of evidence a plaintiff’s attorney will use to support financial demands made during settlement negotiations and in trials. Defense attorneys, in contrast, will use any evidence they can to argue that the person is not injured as badly as they claim. If they are not careful, accident victims who actively use Facebook or Twitter can unintentionally help the defense, by providing the very pictures, videos and text that can derail their case.
How Can They Find My Information?
In some situations, the process of gaining information from a social media website is a simple one. Contrary to what you may think, defense attorneys are no strangers to these websites and resources. Instead of hiring a private investigator to conduct surveillance over weeks or months, the investigation can be concluded in seconds. Equipped with your personal information, such as your name and where you live, they can easily find your profile. From there, they can browse any pictures you publicly share and find out what you have been doing or what you have been talking to your friends about doing. Although what you post may seem “harmless” at the time, it is easy to see how damaging this information can be to a case if, for example, you claim an accident has left you miserable and bed ridden but you turn up smiling in pictures from a recent ski trip. Even if your information is only shared with friends, or is private, there is still a chance the defense could get their hands on it. When a case progresses to litigation and courts become involved, judges have the power to make a person share otherwise private details. In recent decisions, courts in Pennsylvania and New York have faced this very issue.
In Pennsylvania, a county court judge granted a defense motion to compel a plaintiff to turn over user names and passwords for their Facebook and MySpace page. The Judge reasoned that it would be unrealistic for a person to expect the things they disclose in such forums to be confidential. The decision in New York came from a New York Supreme Court Judge, also on a defense motion to compel. There, the judge ordered the plaintiff to provide access to private areas of her Facebook and MySpace profiles, pointing out that if a person puts their physical condition at issue, they should not be allowed to block the defense from access to the material necessary in proving the true nature of that physical condition.
What can I do to Protect Myself?
In our social media crazed world, it is becoming easier and easier for others to find out about you. If you have been injured in a personal injury accident of some sort, it is important to keep this in mind and take steps to protect yourself and your rights. Easy things you can do include:
Only share information with people you know
Choose your friends carefully
Avoid accepting requests from people who want to see your information if you do not know the person asking; it could be someone seeking evidence to use against you
Keep quiet about your accident
While many people know not to talk to insurance companies on the phone following an accident, a good idea is to adopt the same approach toward social media. This means, refrain from referring to your accident in status updates, tweets or other posts
Be aware of other family member’s or friend’s activity
Incriminating pictures of you could be uploaded on someone else’s account, like a sibling or a spouse, so make sure they are following the same guidelines of being selective with whom they share information
If you have questions about your rights after an automobile accident or injury at work, speak with an attorney instead of tweeting it with internet friends. Although you sometimes cannot avoid accidents and crashes from happening, you can prevent having your own online activities being used against you!
For more information related to automobile accidents or how to seek legal help from an attorney after an accident, please contact the New Smyrna Beach personal injury attorneys at Rue & Ziffra.
The above entry is NOT LEGAL ADVICE and should not be intended or construed as such. It is intended only as general information. No individual reading it should act upon it. Reading this entry does not create any relationship between Rue & Ziffra and individuals reading it. If you have questions or concerns, please seek professional legal counsel.