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Social Media Risks for Personal Injury Clients

social-medi-300x256You know what’s funny about stuff you post on the internet? It’s public, and that means people can see it. This includes those you would rather not see it. For example, if you are a disability claimant, you may want to forego that chance to post a video on Youtube of yourself half-naked, covered in tin foil, breakdancing to “Magic Carpet Ride.” Once somebody sees it, you could have a problem with your total disability claim.

This is also very important for people who are making a personal injury claim. Nowadays just about everybody has some form of social media account, and just about all of them give the user the ability to post pictures or video. As a personal injury lawyer, increasingly I am seeing defense attorneys checking my clients out on the web, including social media accounts. Defense attorneys also seek access to these accounts in discovery. I always object to producing social media login information, and so far I have not yet had anyone take the issue before a judge.  Even posts without pictures that describe what you are doing or how you are feeling can be easily taken out of context.

But I do advise all of my clients that they should stay off social media entirely while they have a pending claim.  If that’s not possible, they should careful to never post anything that is even arguably inconsistent with the claim they are making- even to the extent of not posting a picture of yourself at a wedding, or outdoors smiling. It is very easy for that to be taken out of context.

One Case That Went Wrong

Sometimes, it doesn’t even have to be taken out of context. We had a case where the client had pretty serious, objective injuries.  She suffers a broken clavicle, lacerated kidney, severely sprained ankle. It was a pretty bad accident with solid liability.  She is a really nice young woman, too.

In discovery, despite our advice about this very issue, three weeks after the collision my client had posted a video to her Facebook account showing her drinking and laughing with friends, and dancing in her sling and walking boot. When we told the client, she said: “But I don’t understand, I had my privacy settings on lockdown.” Often on the internet, what you may think is private really isn’t. Very shortly after we were made aware of this, we settled the case. And it settled at a dollar amount that reflected the new value of the case with the video in evidence, not the old “no video” value.  It is very rare for anyone to increase their demand or decrease their offer and when it does happen the other side usually just rolls their eyes and ignores it.   In this case, we settled for less than the original offer, albeit not far below the last offer.  I cannot remember this happening in another case.

So for my lawyer and injury victim readers, be very careful about your online presence when you are involved in a claim because whether you think so or not, it may come back to bite you.

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