The use of social media is becoming more and more common. In fact, as of January 2014, 74 percent of adults who used the internet also used social media sites, a Pew Research Center report found. (Since that time, it is estimated that that number has grown.) As social media provides a forum for individuals to share their thoughts, feelings, experiences, and photos, it makes sense that some people who have been injured in an accident turn to social media to share details. However, social media effects on a personal injury claim can be negative, and using social media while in the midst of the claims process is not advised.
The following considers what you need to know about how social media affects your personal injury claim:
Social Media Posts Can Be Detrimental to Your Claim of Physical Injury
People who are pursuing a personal injury claim are usually doing so because, in part, they have suffered physical injuries, such as a broken leg, chronic pain, concussion, traumatic brain injury, soft tissue injury, etc. As such, they are seeking damages for two things: first, expenses associated with the injury such as the costs of staying in a hospital, and second, noneconomic damages for pain and suffering that resulted as a direct consequence of the physical injury.
In order to substantiate these damages, a claimant will usually call upon medical experts, as well as any other specialists or witnesses, including family and friends, who can testify to the claimant's pain.
The job of the defense, or the person/party against whom the claim is being filed, is to do the opposite -- try to drag up evidence that suggests that damages are not nearly as severe as the claimant purports. One of the best sources of evidence is social media profiles.
Consider a claimant who is seeking damages for chronic pain, some loss of mobility, and an inability to enjoy physical activities that he or she once loved, such as hiking. The defense scours through the claimant's social media pages and stumbles upon photographic evidence that suggests the contrary -- photos of the claimant enjoying a beautiful hike in the mountains, while smiling, and with friends. As a result, the judge rules that the claimant is not entitled to compensation for these damages as the photos show clear and convincing evidence of not only the claimant's physical capabilities, but of his or her enjoyment of life as well. (Note: This example is based on the true story of Fotini Kourtesis, who claimed that a rear-end collision left her unable to dance or wrestle with her brother. Facebook pictures showed her being lifted into the air with her brother and dancing after the accident, and the judge ruled against her. You can read more about this in Evidence of Life on Facebook, published in Slate.)
Evidence on Social Media Can Be Used Against You to Disprove Claims of Emotional Distress
In addition to physical injuries, those who are involved in accidents often suffer emotional distress as well. Loss of enjoyment of life, anxiety, depression, and withdrawal and isolation are all things that have been reported by those involved in accidents. And, just like with physical injuries, a claimant who wants to be compensated for his or her emotional injuries must offer proof.
The defense in a personal injury claim may turn to Facebook and other social media sites or forums, such as a claimant's personal blog, in order to disprove claims of emotional distress, depression, etc. And the evidence that they use may be more surprising than you would think. Rather than the obvious -- such as pictures of the claimant enjoying life or smiling amongst friends -- the defense may use something as seemingly innocuous as posts on the claimant's page wishing the claimant a happy birthday, while making the claim that if the claimant was socially isolated and friendless, he or she would not receive birthday wishes from so many other users. Although the link between birthday wishes on a Facebook page and depression may seem loose, be sure that the defense will pull upon anything they can in order to reduce the amount of money they are liable for.
Are My Social Media Postings Public Record?
The examples above raise a question of privacy, with those who have been injured in an accident asking, "Is my social media public record?" The answer is yes. Anything that you post publicly on the internet, or that others post about you, may be used as evidence and therefore used against you during a personal injury claim. Private messages cannot be accessed without consent or a warrant. Anything else, however, is up for grabs.
Best Practices for Social Media
Posting anything online after an accident may be dangerous to your claim, even if you think that what you are posting is harmless or is in no way related to your injury. After you have been in an accident, you should temporarily suspend all of your social media accounts. At the very least, you should be sure that your account is set to private, and that you do not accept any new friend requests during the time period after your accident. You should also ask friends and family members to refrain from posting anything related to you after your accident and to set their profiles to private as well.