Social media and your personal injury claim: Less is always more
We’re putting more and more of our lives online through social media: According to the Pew Research Center, 65% of American adults, and 90% of young adults use social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram on a daily basis. And, as a window into our daily lives for friends and family, they have also become increasingly personal.
People will even use social media while behind the wheel of a car, as we discussed in our previous article Distracted Driving Laws Gain Traction in Minnesota.
As a platform for individuals to share experiences, photos of those experiences, as thoughts, comments, emotions, and questions, it seems only natural, then, for someone who has been involved in a car accident to use their social media accounts to share what happened, as well as everything that happens subsequently.
But the thing about the internet is that everything you post is, on some level, public. It’s available and accessible. Thus, posting on social media while in the middle of a personal injury claim can have dire effects on the outcome of your case, and it’s typically advised to refrain – at least until your claim has been settled.
We’ll discuss the issue piece by piece, and explain the importance of maintaining awareness about the things you post, and the things people are posting about you.
What you post is part of public record
First of all, it’s important to understand that, while it is your personal account to which you’re posting, it’s not necessarily a private account. In fact, anything that you post publicly on the internet (and, in a tricky turn, anything that others post about you) can be used as evidence against you in court.
Note: Private messages, however, cannot be used, or even accessed by anyone except for you or the message’s intended recipient, without a warrant or your expressed consent. Only the things you post publicly are available as evidence.
Just as you’ve probably heard about potential and current employers checking social media accounts for verification of character, so will the defense find anything and everything possible to dispute your claim.
Whether it’s something as simple as a concussion or a broken arm, or something as life-changing as traumatic brain injury, physical injury is the most common reason people seek a personal injury claim. Damages are sought for two reasons:
- To cover the expenses that come with the injury (i.e. hospital costs, ambulance costs, medication, costs, et al)
- To cover damages for the pain and suffering that resulted as a direct consequence of the physical injury.
Medical experts, and other relevant specialists, as well as family and friends and any eyewitnesses who can corroborate the plaintiff/claimant’s (your) story will be called upon to authenticate these damages.
Conversely, the defense (i.e. the person or party against whom the claim is being filed) will try and prove the opposite by finding any all and all evidence that might show these damages are nonexistent, or at least not as bad as you claim.
And, one of the best, and easiest, sources for which to do that is by looking through social media profiles.
If you’re seeking damages for chronic pain, loss of mobility, or the incapacity to enjoy your favorite physical activities, like sports, hiking, as a result of your injury, the defense will likely look through everything they can find on your social media pages. If they come across photos of you playing basketball, or going swimming, or taking a long hike in the mountains with your friends as happy as can be, well, the judge might rule that you don’t deserve compensation for these damages:
Clearly, you’re physical capable, the defense will argue. And, not only that, but you’re clearly enjoying your life as well. It offers evidence that you don’t deserve the damages you’re seeking.
And, if you don’t think this sounds all that plausible, think again: This is based off the true story of Fotini Kourtesis, who lost her case after Facebook photos were presented as evidence of physical well-being. Read the story here: Evidence of Life on Facebook.
And while physical injury is often much easier to quantify, it’s not the only lingering aftereffect of an accident. Those who are involved in accidents often also suffer from emotional distress as well: The symptoms of anxiety and depression can affect overall enjoyment of life and can also negatively affect productivity at work, and others around you, leading to withdrawal and isolation as a result. Damages are awarded as reparations for this as well.
Unsurprisingly, proof must also be provided in order to procure compensation for emotional distress.
The defense in a personal injury claim may use your social media sites, or other linked public platforms like a personal blog or chatboard, to try and prove that your claims of emotional distress/anxiety/depression, etc are either exaggerated or completely made up.
And it doesn’t have to be anything so obvious as the physical evidence presented above; it doesn’t have to be pictures of you surrounded by loved ones or actively enjoying yourself. It can be something as simple, and seemingly harmless, as friends posting “Get Well!” or “Happy Birthday” messages on your page.
If you’re withdrawn and cut off from the world, the defense might say, you wouldn’t have friends actively posting to your page.
The link between depression and your social media is tenuous at best. But when it comes to paying out for claims, the defense must use anything and everything at their disposal to prove you don’t deserve a payout for damages.
It’s often best, in these situations, to simply suspend your account for the time being. You can always return to it once the claim has been settled.
In short, posting anything online after an accident can be harmful to your claim, even, or especially, when you think that what you are posting is harmless or is in no way related to your injury.
The best practice in order to keep yourself completely in the clear is to temporarily suspend all of your social media accounts after you have been in an accident. If your account is linked to work or anything else that would make it hard to delete it even temporarily, make sure that you have your settings set to “private” and don’t accept any new friend requests during the time period after your accident.
Also, ask your friends and family not to post anything for you, about you, or even tangentially related to you after your accident, and that they set their profiles to “private” as well.
We at Paige Donnelly understand how important it is for you to receive full and fair compensation after a serious injury caused in an accident. We have negotiated many favorable personal injury settlements for our clients, and we are also ready to go to trial and fight for the compensation you deserve.
And, as always, make sure you talk to one of our attorneys before you post anything to your social media or any other online profiles.