In this technological age in which a person’s most triumphant and embarrassing moments can be filmed instantly by anyone with a cell phone and then broadcast over the Internet within minutes for anyone to view, it has become increasingly difficult to keep one’s private life private.
Facebook, the premier social media site, is used by millions who post their everyday thoughts, photos and intimate moments for their friends to see. Although a person’s Facebook page is only fully visible to invited guests, it is not a truly private venue, nor is it a space immune from the reach of personal injury litigation.
In the past few years, courts have become increasingly willing to grant defense lawyers in personal injury cases access to a plaintiff’s Facebook page or access to other their other social media sites. Defense attorneys then take advantage of any instance in which these sites expose a plaintiff as behaving less than honestly in regard to how particular injuries occurred or have ultimately affected his or her life.
Traditionally, defense lawyers hoping to discredit plaintiffs have hired detectives to stake out plaintiffs’ houses, track their whereabouts, etc. Defense lawyers now have a less-costly and potentially more-devastating means to impugn a plaintiff’s credibility simply by gaining access to his or her Facebook page. Facebook users who believe that their postings and photos are private and can be viewed at all times only by invited friends and family should understand that their perceived privacy is no more than an illusion. Plaintiffs who post smiling photos or show off a trip to Hawaii while claiming they are homebound, for example, are prone to being discovered by insurance defense lawyers who, with the help of the court system, can access their online revelations.
A personal injury plaintiff puts his or her physical, and sometimes mental, condition at issue if an injury claim is asserted. Defense lawyers currently have a right to access a plaintiff’s medical records, employment records, tax returns, driving record and criminal record, even if certain evidence they uncover might be inadmissible in court. This right to access information about a plaintiff now increasingly applies to social media sites.
Plaintiffs who use Facebook should be forever warned by their attorneys to be extremely cautious about what they say, or post, on their sites.