For most people, social media plays a huge part in everyday life. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Blogger allow anyone and everyone to share their thoughts, feelings, and photos 24/7. Social media can do a lot of good, and these tools allow people to keep in touch like never before.
When it comes to personal injury cases, however, social media can be detrimental if used improperly.
Personal injury law deals with the representation of individuals who have been physically or economically harmed due to the negligence of others. In personal injury cases, attorneys seek to receive fair monetary compensation for physical injuries, emotional injuries, pain, suffering, and financial losses caused by accidents. Personal injury cases can become very complex, as personal injury claims typically require medical record examinations, expert testimonies, and thorough accident investigations.
When a personal injury claim is filed, the main objective is to prove that a person has been injured to the point where financial compensation is required from the guilty party to help with medical bills and treatment costs. In order to argue for this compensation, a person’s injuries must be described and recorded exactly. That is, medical records must reflect the severity of the injury as it is, without exaggeration or minimization. In the Christensen & Hymas “Client Information Booklet,” we explain the following:
“Although you should make sure your doctor is aware of all your symptoms and complaints, be careful about what other statements you make. If you make statements that could be construed against you, and your physician puts these statements in your records, they will definitely be used against you by the insurance adjuster and defense attorney. For example, if your doctor records discussions by you which state that the car accident wasn’t that serious, or that the other driver was going slow when he hit you, this information will definitely be used by the other side to minimize your claim. By the same token, statements which exaggerate your symptoms or the accident (e.g., saying the other car was going 60 mph at impact when there is minimal damage to the vehicles) will also hurt your case. Sometimes statements of this sort will be blown up to poster size so the defense attorney can show the jury or arbitrator just how insignificant or preposterous your claim really is.”
If you state or claim something about your injuries, this statement needs to accurately reflect the seriousness of said injuries. Otherwise, you could end up severely damaging your case.
So, what does all of this have to do with social media?
Insurance companies and their attorneys are constantly using social media to monitor you and your post-accident injuries. Insurance adjusters will enter your name into Google and check all of your social media platforms to see what content they can find about you, the accident victim—in other words, they will be looking for any information that could damage your personal injury claim. Photos, status updates, and posts that may seem completely harmless could end up containing exactly the information necessary for an insurance adjuster to find “evidence” against your claim.
According to the Christensen & Hymas “Client Information Booklet,” there are several key reasons insurance companies are looking at social media sites:
- To confirm or disprove the severity of your injury
- To confirm or disprove your ability to perform activities and sports
- To confirm or disprove your ability to work
- To confirm or disprove whether you interact normally with friends and family
If, through your personal injury claim, you assert that you cannot function normally or perform everyday tasks, pictures and posts on social media sites could easily work against you. An insurance adjuster who sees photos of you hanging out with friends or attending social events will likely seek to argue against your claims—claims that suggest you are too injured or in too much pain to work or interact normally.
While you do not need to stop using your social media sites all together, it is important to exercise additional caution while your case is being handled. Because of your accident, you will temporarily be living in a glass house. Every picture, comment, and update that you post will be viewed under a microscope by the opposing legal team. If you are not careful, even the most seemingly-irrelevant things can be twisted to make it appear that you are not severely injured or that you are lying about your condition. Monitoring your social media presence and keeping to a strict social media “diet” will help decrease your chances of content being used against you.
Avvo.com, a Q&A forum where the public can ask legal questions of licensed lawyers, discusses the issues surrounding social media in their blog post “Guide to Using Social Media During Your Personal Injury Case.” The author of the blog post, Sean P. DuBois, is a personal injury attorney working in Portland. He suggests seven social media tips for accident victims with pending personal injury cases:
- Disable your blog and Facebook account (and other social media platforms). DuBois believes that the temptation to publicly write about your daily life and daily feelings during the claims process is typically too strong to resist. For many people, it may be easier to temporarily stop using these sites completely.
- Do not post information about your accident on any of your social media sites. In addition, ask your friends and family to also refrain from posting anything related to your accident—even if it is just in the form of a comment or a shout-out to get well. Remember, anything that is posted online remains there and can be analyzed by the opposition.
- Remove old posts and photos that could hurt your case from your social media sites. DuBois uses the example of a back injury: If you even made a slight complaint about back pain several years ago, insurance companies could use such a post as evidence against your claim and argue that your accident did not cause your injuries.
- Do not post information about your recovery on any of your social media sites. Just as you should not post about your accident, do not post about how you are recovering from your accident. Keep the details of your recovery process between you, your doctors, and your attorneys.
- Google yourself. Search for your name on several search engines, and try to remove any content you find that could hurt your case.
- Ask your friends and family to stop posting about you in general. If the people in your close circle are constantly tagging photos of you, making comments about you, and electronically inviting you to their events, they are consistently producing new content that could be used as evidence against you. Make sure your name is not connected to any locations, events, or photo albums that could be misleading or that contradict your injury claim.
- Pay attention to what updates you post and what events you accept. If your Facebook page shows that you attended a 5K (even just to cheer friends on) and you are claiming you can’t run or walk, insurance companies will probably not be very sympathetic.
When deciding how to monitor your social media accounts, keep in mind that even removing content from your profile does not permanently remove it from the Internet. Photos and videos that have been taken off your Facebook page, for example, will be more difficult to find—but they are not lost forever. In addition, adjusting privacy settings does not guarantee your content cannot be accessed. Connections on social media are vast, and you never know what mutual friends you may share with insurance adjusters and attorneys. Also, keep in mind that legal teams can request the contents of your entire social media account(s) and that judges may order you to produce pages if your case goes to court. If you feel hesitant about posting something to one of your social media pages, it is best to err on the side of caution. Refraining from posting everything about your life—and evening refraining from posting anything about your life—will help protect your personal injury claim.