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Blog Series: Social Network Privacy and Your Personal Injury Case-Part I – Introduction

Part I – Introduction

 By Michael Malvey, Esq.

For most people, when they suffer injuries as a result of an accident, it can be one of the most challenging times in their life.  In today’s society, many people wouldn’t think twice about posting information about their accident and injuries on Facebook or Twitter to alert their friends and families to what they are going through.  However, one simple comment about one’s accident or injuries on a social networking website could be enough to allow the insurance company or lawyers  defending the party responsible for the accident to seek  Court-approved access to the injured person’s entire social networking account, including their login and password.

Social Networking privacy is the subject of great debate in the Courts and the law is changing every day.  Because more and more people are sharing personal information about their day-to-day life with hundreds of “friends” or “followers”, the Courts have been struggling to re-define what information should be considered “private” and what is subject to discovery during a personal injury lawsuit.  In this blog, and in subsequent posts, I will discuss the constantly changing state of the law on Social Networking Privacy and how it can affect a personal injury case.

One  reason why the Courts have struggled with this issue is that the way society defines “privacy” is constantly changing.  Through websites like Facebook and Twitter, millions of people have become more comfortable sharing private information that they might have once chosen to keep to themselves, or limited to a small handful of people.  As recently as ten years ago, the idea that a photograph that you took or a comment that you made could be made instantly accessible to hundreds (or thousands) of friends, family and acquaintances world-wide was beyond anyone’s imagination.  But now social networking websites have become a primary means by which people make announcements about every aspect of their life – from the birth of their child to the length of the line they are waiting in at their local supermarket.

When someone brings a lawsuit for personal injuries, the Courts will generally allow the defendant’s lawyers to obtain any information that is related to the accident or the injuries that the plaintiff has sustained.  Because any statement made by an injured party about how their accident happened or how the injuries have affected them is considered admissible evidence, insurance companies are now looking for comments like these on people’s social networking pages.

Likewise, insurance companies are looking for evidence on people’s Facebook profiles that would contradict the claims for injuries that a Plaintiff is making.  For example, in a case where someone is claiming that they injured their back and that they cannot go to work, if they post photographs of them winning a bowling tournament while they are out on disability, this type of photo would be used as evidence to dispute whether they were actually capable of working.

Even in cases where there is nothing on people’s Facebook or Twitter profiles, this isn’t stopping insurance companies from trying to get access to people’s accounts to just see what they can find.  To protect the privacy rights of our clients, we at Galfand Berger recommend to our clients that they take the following steps to reduce the chance that an insurance company will be granted access to their account:

  • Set all of your social network websites to have the maximum privacy settings.  Only permit confirmed friends and family to view the information you post on your social network pages.  TIP: Keep track of any changes to the privacy policies of your social network websites, as these can change regularly and without warning.
  • Never post comments, photographs, articles or images about your legal claims on a social network website.  Posting anything about any part of your legal claim can be used against you in court.  By doing so, you will only give corporations, insurance companies and their lawyers a reason to ask that the court grant full access to your social networks.  TIP: You should never post anything that relates in any way to your personal injury lawsuit.  Even if you think the posting might be helpful to your legal claim, do not post it.
  • Never post any information that acknowledges or suggests you have engaged in illegal activities.  Whether you are joking or not, comments or photos that demonstrate you engaging in illegal or inappropriate conduct can and will be used against you.  TIP:  Do not post inappropriate photos or comments that can come back to damage your legal claim.
  • Limit what you allow your online “friends” to post to your social network pages.  Even if you are careful with what you post, your friends may not be.  TIP: While your legal claim is pending, we urge you to turn off the option, which allows your friends to comment on your social networking websites.

Check back on this blog for future articles about the changing law on Social Networking Privacy and how it can affect your personal injury case.

If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident, contact the personal injury lawyers at Galfand Berger. Our accident lawyers will investigate your matter to determine who is liable for your injuries and will help you recover the compensation due to you under the law.  With offices located throughout the Southeast Pennsylvania region, including Philadelphia, Reading, and Bethlehem, PA, our attorneys are available to meet with you at your convenience. Call us today at 1-800-222-8792 or contact us online.