How Can Social Media Impact Your Personal Injury Case?
In an ideal world, personal injury cases would be straightforward. The process wouldn’t be cutthroat, and there would be a smooth resolution to the case. Unfortunately, we do not live in an ideal world. No matter if you are the plaintiff or the defendant, your sole objective is to win your personal injury case.
Attorneys for the opposing side will do everything they can to find your personal information and spin those facts in their favor. Anything found online can be used to reduce their financial burden, and limit or potentially deny your claim. If you’re one of the 81 percent of Americans with a social media profile, it’s important to monitor your account while going through a personal injury case.
Social Media Can Ruin Your Case
Imagine a scenario where you’ve been seriously injured in an automobile accident. You’re facing a long, expensive road to recovery and are seeking to recoup your damages. The other party is clearly at fault, and all signs indicate that a settlement is imminent.
But one day, their attorney informs you that you will not be settling. Why? Because they found evidence of a comment that you made on Facebook two minutes before the accident occurred. They’re using this to demonstrate that you were distracted while driving, and they’re going to prove that if you hadn’t been distracted, the accident could have easily been avoided.
Forget if you were actually on your phone when the accident occurred. By finding the Facebook post, the defendant’s attorneys have now called your credibility into question. What was once a slam-dunk case may now net you nothing? In an extreme scenario, the defendant could counter-sue. You would now become the defendant and be sued for damages.
There’s no way that could happen to you though, right? Think again. The hypothetical scenario above is all too real. Defense attorneys will use whatever evidence they can get their hands on as means to attack your credibility. Not a single one of your social media platforms or posts is safe when you’re in the middle of a personal injury trial.
It’s also important to remember that pretty much any social media post can be found. A Snapchat that you sent can be screenshotted by a friend and sold to the defense. Money serves as a motivator for a lot of people. The innocent Snapchat you sent a year ago that showed you speeding while driving? It could come back to cripple your personal injury case.
These scenarios may sound extreme, but they’re very realistic. Any piece of evidence that will call your credibility into question will be presented as a way for the defendant to reduce their burden of financial compensation.
When looking for your online profiles, the first thing an attorney will do is simply search your name. If you have a common name, they’ll add search indicators such as your hometown or place of employment. Unfortunately, this is often enough to discover an online profile. Most people do not have their social media accounts set to private, which means their photos and personal information are available for the world to see.
The easy fix would seem to be setting your profile to private. This is not enough. There is still a record of your online presence, and it can easily be found by searching your network of friends. If your friends don’t have strong privacy settings – which odds are, at least one of your friends doesn’t – content you’ve shared can be found.
Additionally, evidence gathering may be made mandatory by the courts. You may not have any choice but to share your accounts with the defense. This is known as discovery, and it occurs in pre-trial phases. The court can subject you to interrogation, depositions, and requests for admissions, in addition to requiring you to produce documents and other requested evidence. The only way you would not have to share this information is if it were protected because of privilege.
Florida courts have established a precedent that pictures from social media accounts are available during discovery, no matter how strict your privacy settings.
How To Protect Your Information
It’s highly recommended that at the very least, you turn on the strictest privacy settings available. Some social media platforms allow you to make yourself undiscoverable. For example, Facebook has a feature that allows you to determine who can send you a friend request. You can change this setting to “No one can friend request me.”
The only true way to protect yourself online, however, is not to post at all. Consider whether you’d be comfortable with defense attorneys, a judge, or a jury seeing a post. If not, then restrain from clicking the “Post” button.