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Philadelphia Accident Lawyers’ Blog Series: Social Network Privacy and Your Personal Injury Case, Part II

By Michael Malvey, Esq. 

At Galfand Berger, we continue to keep track of changes in all areas of the law that can affect our clients’ rights to recover in their personal injury claims.  One area of the law that is constantly developing is the right to privacy in the age of social networking.

In Part I of this “Social Network and Your Personal Injury Case” blog series Social Network Blog – Part One I wrote about how seemingly harmless posts on websites like Facebook, Twitter and MySpace can be used by insurance companies and defense attorneys to deny a claim for personal injuries.  In this part, I will discuss some of the recent Pennsylvania cases that have changed the way that Courts grant access to social networking information.

Until recently, in certain cases some Pennsylvania courts have been willing to grant an insurance company or their attorney unlimited access to someone’s private Social Networking account information.

In Zimmerman v. Weis Markets, Inc., (Northumberland C.P. May 19, 2011), the plaintiff suffered a forklift truck accident injury that resulted in numerous injuries, including scarring to his leg.  The plaintiff claimed that the scar caused him so much embarrassment that he would not wear shorts in public.  However, the plaintiff’s public Facebook profile contained a photograph of the plaintiff wearing shorts after the accident in which his scar was clearly visible.  Once learning of this, the attorneys for the defendant petitioned the Court to give them access to the plaintiff’s entire Facebook profile to see if there was other information that might be relevant to the lawsuit.  The Court concluded that based on the information that the plaintiff made available to the public, that there was reasonable to conclude that there might be more relevant information in the private sections of plaintiff’s Facebook profile, and required that the plaintiff give the defendants his log-in and password information without limitation.

In Largent v. Reed, (Franklin C.P. Nov. 8, 2011), the plaintiff was injured in a motorcycle accident and claimed serious and permanent physical and mental injuries, including that she was depressed and needed a cane to walk.  The defendant’s attorneys petitioned the Court to require plaintiff to provide her Facebook log-in and password information because the plaintiff had previously posted a pictures of herself enjoying activities with her family, and made a reference to going to a gym after the accident.  Once again, the Court granted the defendant access to plaintiff’s log-in and password information for a period of 21 days, after which time the plaintiff would be permitted to change her password.

Fortunately, the Courts do not always grant unlimited access to a parties’ Facebook account if they cannot prove relevance.  In Trail v. Lesko (Allegheny C.P., July 3, 2012), a case involving a motor vehicle accident, the plaintiff and defendant both filed Motions against each other requesting that the Court grant access to each other’s Facebook accounts.  After carefully considering the basis for each parties’ request, the Court denied the Motions.  The plaintiff’s request to access the defendant’s website was denied because the Court felt there was nothing on the account that would be relevant in light of the fact that the defendant had already admitted to being at fault and that he was driving while intoxicated at the time of the accident.  The defendant’s request was denied because, although the plaintiff had publicly posted photographs of himself drinking alcohol at a party and at a bar socializing, there was nothing about these photographs that contradicted any of the claims plaintiff was making in his case.

We at Galfand Berger expect the law to continue to change, especially since the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has yet to enter a definitive ruling on the issue of social networking privacy.  Regardless of the current state of the law, we still recommend that you follow these simple tips to protect your privacy rights:

-Never discuss anything related to your personal injury claims on a social networking website, regardless of whether you think it is “helpful” for your case.

-Always set your privacy settings to the highest level, so that only confirmed “friends” can see the photos and comments you make.

-Never discuss illegal or illicit activity on a social networking website, even if you are making a joke.

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.

For more information, call the personal injury lawyers at Galfand Berger at 1-800-222-USWA (8792) or contact us onlineWith offices in Philadelphia, Reading and Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, we represent clients throughout Southeast Pennsylvania, including Bucks, Montgomery, Chester andDelaware Counties, and all of Southern New Jersey.