Don’t Let Social Media Doom Your Civil Suit
November 4, 2014
Discussing your personal injury case on social media is a misguided undertaking that can lead only to disappointment and frustration for you and your attorney. Social media websites have become incredibly popular and now exist as the primary platform for individuals to voice their opinions and share the details of their daily lives. While these websites are great outlets for connecting with one another and the world at large, when it comes to the courtroom they have only created headaches and problems for those that openly discuss their cases, accidents, or injuries. Whenever anyone becomes involved in a case, or even contemplates bringing a claim, they must be wary of the pitfalls of social media. In this technological age, if a party’s dirty laundry is published for the world to see then it will most likely be used against them in the courtroom, even if it is a lie or an exaggeration.
Social media has never been more popular than it is today. It seems like every day a new social media platform pops up out of nowhere. The usage statistics of these websites are absolutely staggering to contemplate. Facebook recently passed 1.23 billion monthly active users, 874 million mobile users, and 728 million daily users. At least 699 million of these users post on average at least once per day. Moreover, there are 271 million monthly active Twitter users who generate 6,000 tweets every second, or an average of 500 million tweets per day. Although these two sites are the most popular, there are thousands of other social media outlets that people flock to on a regular basis, sharing all kinds of information, even that which should be kept private.
In a recent Florida case, the headmaster of a prep school brought a lawsuit against the school for age discrimination when his contract was not renewed. The two parties eventually reached a settlement agreement under which the headmaster was to receive $90,000 in return for signing a confidentiality clause under which he was not permitted to speak to anyone about the terms of the settlement except for his wife. After signing the agreement, the headmaster informed his daughter of the settlement, who then proceeded to share the news with her 1,200 Facebook friends, many of whom attended the school involved in the lawsuit. She posted, “Mama and Papa Snay won the case against Gulliver. Gulliver is now officially paying for my vacation to Europe this summer. SUCK IT.” Due to this violation of the confidentiality clause, the headmaster did not receive any of his settlement award.
Similarly, in a case out of New York, a woman involved in a personal injury suit made allegations of significant and debilitating neck and back injuries. She claimed that these injuries led to a severe loss of enjoyment in life and requested damages to reflect that loss. Unfortunately for her, however, the woman’s social media postings during that time contained pictures of her on an extended vacation in Florida where she was participating in numerous activities.
Even those not party to a case can have their social media activities rummaged through. The American Bar Association has recently announced that it is ethical for lawyers to search the internet for publicly available information on citizens called for jury duty. The attorneys cannot, however, go so far as to communicate with a juror on these platforms such as sending a friend request on Facebook.
There are several steps an individual can take to better protect themselves from social media doom. The best route is to refrain from publishing comments or pictures that have anything to do with the case. If it’s not out there, it cannot hurt the case. This includes any comments about potential injuries, about the adversary, about the attorneys in the action, and anything that is even remotely linked to the claims involved in the case. Additionally, it is important that those involved in litigation do not have a narrow definition of social media. According to the American Bar Association, social media includes “any tool or service that uses the internet to facilitate conversation.” This would include not only Facebook and Twitter, but also less commonly thought of websites such as LinkedIn, any blogging websites, Reddit, Flickr, Pinterest, and Youtube.
Also, those involved in litigation must be aware that they cannot delete any postings or photos that may be related to the case. This would be destroying evidence and can lead to significant penalties such as sanctions by the court. Finally, if posting on these social media websites is an absolute must, then in the very least the user should ensure that the profile is set to private. This does not completely shield the information posted and does not guarantee the postings will not be used in court, but it does offer a slim layer of protection.
If you are involved in litigation or contemplating filing a claim, you should make your attorney aware of your social media usage. A knowledgeable attorney will help curb your social media presence and guide you through the litigation process without breaking any evidence rules.