A personal injury case can be a traumatic, troubling, and anxiety-inducing time. You don’t know what the outcome will be, you may still be feeling the effects of the injury or incident, and you perhaps feel a little alone and isolated as a result.
This is why it’s so tempting to turn to social media to provide a little distraction, or to offer connection and comfort during the process. In fact, most probably will do this – statistics show that 77% of Americans operate a social media profile of some kind, far higher than the global average.
But you should tread very carefully here. Things you post on social media – or even actions you take on social platforms – can put your personal injury case in serious jeopardy.
Social media statements are not like other utterances
You may have heard that things you say outside of court cannot be used as evidence unless they are delivered to law enforcement officers or other legal authorities. While this is true, to an extent, it cannot always be relied upon. Different states employ different laws regarding this. You may find that what you have said casually is, in fact, admissible in a court of law.
This is often the case when it comes to social media posts. Social media posts are verifiable statements, and, if you are a party to the case, they can be used in court during a personal injury claim. This also applies to statements which friends and family make about you on social media.
Don’t be fooled into thinking you are free to say whatever you like on social media without repercussion. As there is written or filmed evidence of your statement, these online utterances are considered to be strong evidence and can seriously impact the case.
Posts can be, and are, used against parties in personal injury cases
Some parties in a personal injury case may not give much thought to what they say on social media, or they may think that the chances of such posts being dredged up and used against them are minimal. This is a risky attitude as legal history shows us that posts are frequently used against plaintiffs in court.
One high profile case involved Dominique Sharpton, the daughter of Rev. Al Sharpton, who brought about a civil action after spraining her ankle on a piece of unmaintained sidewalk. Pictures posted on Instagram of Dominique wearing high heels and hiking in Indonesia and in Nevada were picked up by the media and used to discredit the plaintiff. While Ms. Sharpton did eventually receive a settlement, her activity on social media made what could have been a straightforward case much more drawn out and complex.
While most personal injury claimants are not placed under such scrutiny by the media, legal professionals have the right to search for posts on social media and to bring these posts to the attention of the court. Provided that the evidence discovered passes the relevancy test, posts used in such a way can be seriously damaging to a case,
It is possible to cast doubt on your own words
As we have seen with the case of Dominique Sharpton, what you post on social media can directly contradict your own words in court. This can take an overt form – for example, if you claim to have severe range of motion issues following an incident but post pictures and statements online involving mountain biking, marathon running, or another highly physical activity. However, these contradictions may be more implicit such as, talking about ‘a really good day’ when you had claimed to be recovering from the effects of shock or trauma after an injury at work, or implying that you were in some other location when you were supposed to be receiving treatment.
Contradictory statements might not even relate directly to the injury. If you claimed to have no contact with a certain individual for a stated amount of time but have been seen to be communicating with them online, this is going to cast doubt on your story. In fact, anything that you say which appears to contradict affirmations you make in court is going to cause serious problems and make it difficult to achieve your desired outcomes.
Tagging and checking in may make it difficult for people to believe your story
It is worth remembering how sophisticated social media has become. What was once simply a platform for sharing thoughts, sentiments, and nice pictures, now facilitates more complex communication, including specific geographical tagging.
Appearing in a photograph posted on Facebook with a group of friends is fairly innocuous and should have no bearing on your case. However, if the photo is tagged with a location some distance from where you said you were at the time, or where you were meant to be, this may be damaging to your credibility in court.
Remember that default privacy settings on most social media platforms enable tagging from anyone you are connected with on the site. This means that friends and family can tag you in certain locations, even if you have not done so yourself. While these tags may not be considered hard evidence by themselves, they can lead to further investigation, which will extend and complicate the process at best and result in a failed claim at worst.
You may be accused of exaggerating or playing up your injuries
In most cases, a personal injury claim cannot be judged along stark black and white lines. For the most part, these cases do not involve one party saying “I was injured”, with another party saying “no, you weren’t.” In fact, cases tend to be far more nuanced and complex than this.
Usually, the existence of an injury is accepted by both sides as this is something which is often immediately obvious. What the court will need to decide is the severity of the injury and whether someone can be found to be at fault.
If your social media posts suggest that you have exaggerated your injuries, or misrepresented their severity in another way, this is going to cause problems. It may make you look dishonest and calculating, even if this was never your intention, and can result in you missing out on a claim which you should rightfully win.
Those you consider trustworthy may not be
All of us have people who we confide in and people who we don’t deem trustworthy. However, our judgment in this respect is not always reliable. If you have a social media group containing only your close friends, you might think that this is a safe place to share information regarding your case. Or you might be less guarded about what you share.
Unfortunately, evenly innocently presented information may be misinterpreted by those who receive it. These recipients of information may then decide to pass this on to the authorities, who may misinterpret it once again, landing you in trouble with the court.
The point here is not so much that you can’t trust your close friends – in most instances, you certainly can. Instead, the point is that you must be extremely careful with any information you share online and should seriously consider how this information may affect your case if it was made public. A good rule of thumb is to not post any information relating to your case, to your injury, or relating to your personal fitness, at all, for the duration of the claim.
Even posts from others may harm your personal injury case
Most of us have experienced an embarrassing incident on social media, often unwittingly. Videos posted by friends of us singing along a little bit too passionately to our favorite song, drinking one or two too many glasses of wine at a colleague’s wedding, or letting our clumsiness get the better of us, usually result in nothing more than a red face and a couple of awkward conversations. However, during a personal injury claim, the stakes can be a lot higher.
During your case, be aware of doing anything which might jeopardize the proceedings. If you have a leg injury following a car accident, you may still have some days when you feel strong enough to walk a few blocks or to toss a baseball in the backyard with the kids. Even though you might not shout about this on social media, it doesn’t mean that no one else will. This is why you should be very careful when it comes to engaging in such activities.
Generally, your injury is going to preclude you from doing anything strenuous or active, so there is no need to worry about this. However, it is still important to avoid engaging in any activity which can be misinterpreted by legal authorities, even if you do not plan to post about this on your own profile.
It is easy to make a mistake
The above considerations might seem relatively easy to follow, and you may be of the impression that you are in no danger of getting yourself into trouble online. Unfortunately, this might not be the case. All of us are humans and we are all prone to making mistakes and errors from time to time. Almost always, such slip-ups are minor and we barely even notice them. However, when it comes to a personal injury claim, the repercussions of such an error can be severe.
The advice here is to be extremely careful regarding your social media usage while your claim is active. It is not that you should not use social media at all. Instead, you should simply exercise extreme caution while doing so and keep your ongoing claim in mind.
While this might seem like an unfeasible or even exhausting thing to keep track of, remember that it is only for a short time. In fact, keeping on top of your social media usage in this way will make the whole process run much more smoothly and effectively, helping you to reach a beneficial conclusion more quickly.
This will probably result in you spending less time on social media than you usually would, but this might not be a bad thing. As studies have shown that too much time spent on social media can cause depression and other psychiatric conditions, cutting back a little bit is probably a good idea.
Even private profiles may cause problems
Setting your profile to private might seem like an easy way to eliminate the dangers of social media but this is not the case. Many states and legal jurisdictions now have discovery laws, which permit legal personnel not only to explore public social media profiles in search of evidence but also to demand information from private profiles.
In Nevada, for example, courts are permitted to force parties in a case to submit records of communication for consideration during a legal procedure. Previously, this may have referred to records of telephone conversations or evidence of written correspondence, but, in the modern age, this also refers to records of social media activity. Regardless of whether you want to or not, the court may force you to make this information public.
Getting caught can be extremely expensive
If any information is extracted from your social media profiles and used against you, or if any conflicting evidence regarding your case appears online, the results can be catastrophic. Depending on the findings of the court, you will likely be forced to pay the legal fees for your opponent in the event that the ruling goes against you. This opponent may even decide to countersue if they feel they have been put through necessary stress and anguish.
However, with the proper care and consideration taken, you should have no problem ensuring that your social media profiles stay out of the courtroom. If you would like to learn more about how social media can affect your personal injury case, get in touch with our team today. We are always ready to provide you with the advice you need.