It’s crazy to think that just a few years ago, social media was something we had to define. Today, when you say those two words, what comes to mind? Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or Snapchat maybe? According to a survey conducted in 2019, 69% of U.S. adults and 51% of U.S. teens use Facebook, while approximately 72% of teens use Instagram. Despite the obvious utility of social media, there are certain precautions that one must take when using such platforms. Surely you have heard it before… “be careful about what you post on social media because everyone will be able to see it.” Generally, such words are spoken to our youth, students, prospective employees, professionals, and the like. However, after suffering a personal injury due to the negligence of another and filing a subsequent personal injury claim, you too must be careful as to the content on your social media page. Additionally, throughout the course of your lawsuit, you must be aware of any images, posts, and comments of friends or family members in which they tag your social media account, thereby making the content available to your social media friends and/or followers.
Disproving your Injury Claim is the Insurance Company’s Main Goal
In litigation, an insurance company and defense attorney’s primary objective is to diminish the injured party’s claim as much as possible in an attempt to limit the liability of the defendant. In doing so, it is important to understand that the insurance company and attorney for the defendant will look for, and often find, any evidence that may undermine your personal injury claim, including your social media pages. Such discoverable evidence includes, but is not limited to, social media posts, image uploads, job updates, location check-ins, selfies, status changes, tweets, tagged posts, tagged images, etc.
Surely to you, your social media is intended to be a private means of communicating and staying in touch with friends and family. Unfortunately, your privacy isn’t quite as protected as you would hope. To a defendant, defense attorney, and insurance company, your social media presence may provide the perfect evidence to undermine your claims for damages, thus resulting in a lower settlement offer and jury verdict.
What types of damages can your social media presence impact?
As part of a personal injury claim, the injured party generally claims that they have suffered past and future damages as a direct and proximate result of the defendant’s negligent conduct. Such damages may include bodily injury, physical pain, disability, loss of capacity to lead and enjoy a normal life, inconvenience, physical impairment, disfigurement and scarring, mental anguish, loss of or diminution of earnings or earning capacity, loss of consortium, permanent injury, and all past and future medical expenses.
So what’s a good example of this? Imagine yourself as a victim of a car accident which caused a neck injury and emotional distress. As a result of the accident, you are in great pain and you have lost your ability to live a normal life. After a few months of these struggles, let’s say you decide to hire an attorney.
In the meantime, you go on a vacation with your friends to California where your friends plan to hike a few mountains. Instead of staying behind while your friends explore, you decide that you will join them for the adventure. While at the top of a mountain overlooking the ocean, you decide to make your friends and family jealous, so you post a selfie with the caption being “just hiked Yosemite with my friends. We are having a blast!”. Later that night, you go out for a night on the town. You and your friends take several pictures while you are out, one of which shows you on a dance floor. She uploads it to Facebook and tags you.
Eventually, you return home from your trip and call your personal injury attorney to ask for a status update on your claim. Much to your dismay, your attorney informs you that the defense attorney on your case has found, saved, and printed all the pictures and posts from your California vacation that you have been tagged in or uploaded. The attorney informs you that he plans to use them against you to rebut your claims.
After several low-ball offers, the case moves forward to trial, and a jury is responsible for determining liability, causation, and damages. The jury must examine all the evidence in determining liability, causation, and the damages to award. At trial, your personal injury attorney pleads to the jury that you have suffered permanent injuries to your neck and that as a result you have lost the ability to enjoy a normal life. Additionally, your attorney explains that you have suffered extreme emotional distress that must also be considered in awarding the damages.
Unfortunately for you, the defense attorney proceeds to show the jury the images and posts that you have put on social media after the accident, including the posts from your hiking trip. The same jury that just heard all about your physical and emotional pain and suffering now sees that you went on vacation with friends, endured the physical rigors of hiking, and that you were having a blast. That claim for physical injury and emotional suffering has been appropriately called in to question and as a result, the jury decides not to award you the compensation you rightfully deserve.
How Maring Williams Law Office Can Help Protect You
At MWLO, we acknowledge the difficulties in monitoring your social media account throughout your pending personal injury claim. However, it is imperative that we advise you of the consequences social media may have on your claim. In fact, a single post or image on your social media page may be the difference between a substantial settlement offer and low-ball offer or a large jury verdict and an award of little damages. Despite the possible negative consequences that could result from social media use, we provide you with the necessary information to ensure that your claim is protected.
Additionally, we strongly suggest that you be alert as to any posts, images, or comments that are made on your behalf by third-parties, such as friends and family. While that picture that your uncle Bob posted showing you at your family reunion with a huge smile on your face may not look like much, however, it may be used by the defense in an attempt to undermine your personal injury claim. Throughout the duration of your lawsuit, it is very important that you closely monitor your social media account while also making those closest to you aware of the role their tagged image of you may play in undermining your lawsuit.
If you have any questions about your case, please call us at (701) 402-6644.