In my 18 years of representing persons injured in automobile accidents, I have run across my fair share of damaging evidence. Prior to the widespread use of social media sites such as Facebook, an attorney still had to worry about photos or video of his or her client being shown to the jury during a trial. However, such evidence was normally procured by the defendant through surveillance that was obtained by a private investigator. I have always explained to my clients that he or she doesn’t have to be toting cinder blocks around for something to look bad on video, as insurance companies will settle for something as mundane as carrying groceries from the car into the house. Regardless of how the video or photos are obtained, the potential problem is that it does not reflect if the client was in pain at the time.
Fast forward to the present day of Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, and any number of other social media sites, and there is a veritable treasure trove of information available to insurance company claims adjusters or defense attorneys. I first blogged on this subject years ago, which is evident in the fact that I described the perils of using “Myspace” after opening an injury claim. Since the rise and fall of Myspace’s popularity, obviously Facebook is the biggest concern. However, it is no longer just Facebook, but a wide range of sites. There are so many social media sites, that services such as “hootsuite” exist that allow one to create a single post that will be sent to several social media platforms at once.
As a Pasco County, Florida personal injury accident attorney, I have realized for years that it is more important than ever to warn clients about using social media while the claim is open. No longer is Facebook socially confined to just teens and college students, as it has become wildly popular with baby boomers and retirees. I advise persons following an accident, if possible to suspend their Facebook and other accounts during the period of time that the claim is open. However, I realize that many will not heed this advice. Therefore, I request that at a minimum they do the following:
1) Lock the account down and use maximum security features. Don’t allow yourself to be “tagged” in photos or locations by other users is one example.
2) Cull your Friends list. Culling of the friends list is essentially reducing the number of friends. Do any of us really have 500 friends? Anyone you do not know personally should be unfriended. At the very least, if you will not do this, then set up a “group” of only close friends or relatives that will see your posts.
3) Do not post ANY photos or video of yourself! Other attorneys may disagree with this advice, but as someone that has been to trial many times, I do not like social photos of any nature to come into evidence. This may seem extreme, but let’s take an example. Let’s say it’s your grandparents 50th wedding anniversary, so the entire family goes out to dinner. There is certainly nothing damaging about a family photo, right? You’re not a heavy drinker of alcohol, but it’s a celebration, so you have a nice frosty beer in front of you as you slightly contort yourself to be in the photo. You’re not especially enjoying yourself, because it’s a bad pain day. Of course, you smile for the photo. To a jury, this can look like someone out having a great time that has a wonderful “quality of life.” (And look at the way he’s bending his neck!) This is what I meant before when I said that a photo or video will almost never tell the story of the pain you are experiencing (an exception would be a “day in the life” production, which I’ll address in a future blog).
I could continue with a much longer list, but I think the point is made. Tread very cautiously with social media if you have been in a car accident, slip and fall, or injured by a dangerous product (as well as any other type of negligence injury claim). Live by this rule: Assume anything you post, or that is posted about you, will be viewed by the claim’s adjuster and eventually a jury!