Law Offices of Elliott Kanter
Social Media Evidence In Personal Injury Cases
You probably already know that if you are injured by negligence and you file a personal injury claim, the insurance company that you’ve targeted will aggressively fight your claim. You may not, however, be aware of the lengths that insurance companies will go to gain evidence that they can use against you. Unfortunately, many people jeopardize their own personal injury claims when they fail to realize that the content that they post online on social media and other sites can provide insurance company attorneys with a treasure trove of evidence to use against them. Anything that you post on a social network site can potentially be used as evidence against you. That is a simple fact that every person who is filing a claim needs to understand. If you’ve been injured by negligence and need to file a personal injury claim, speak first with a good personal injury lawyer, and in California, with an experienced California personal injury attorney.
THE EVIDENCE INSURANCE COMPANIES SEEK
The insurance company is primarily looking for evidence that your injuries are either entirely fabricated or not as severe as you claim they are. If the company manages to establish that your injuries are not as severe as you claim, it can get away with denying your claim or offering a much lower settlement value than your case is worth. Insurance adjusters and investigators will go through your social media accounts to find posts, videos, photographs, and other types of incriminating evidence that point to the possibility that your injuries are not as severe as you claim they are.
Consider Facebook as an example. The social networking site currently has more than 1.5 billion users, and it’s tremendously popular in the United States. The temptation to log in to Facebook, and post flattering pictures, posts, and videos is one that, for whatever reasons, many personal injury claimants cannot resist. Unfortunately, those photographs and videos can be accessed by insurance companies and used against you. For instance, if you are in a traffic accident and you are claiming compensation for head and neck injuries, and if you post pictures on Facebook of yourself enjoying some touch football or rock climbing, or even just yard work, you need to know that the attorneys for the insurance company can access those pictures.
If you upload your pictures and you think that your privacy settings will only allow certain people to see them, think again. There are ways that insurance company attorneys can gain access to people on your “friends list” to look at your content. These kinds of tactics by insurance companies are far too common, and only a very careless personal injury claimant will ignore these admonitions.
MINIMIZE USE OF SOCIAL MEDIA
Facebook is not the only popular online spot where insurance company representatives may find evidence to jeopardize your personal injury claim. Many Americans also frequently post pictures to Twitter, the online messaging platform that allows you to post messages of 140 characters or less. The “tweets” can easily be accessed by an insurance company, and if you boast about how great you feel after that “super-exhausting-but-fun bicycling session today,” it makes it that much harder for you to prove that your leg injury is as disabling as you claim.
Be especially wary of sites like Foursquare that may seem innocent. Foursquare allows you to check in at locations and places of interest around your city. If you have suffered a serious back injury in a workplace accident, you really don’t want to be checking in at the health club or the bowling alley. If your claim rests on the assertion that you’re suffering from constant and chronic pain that has prevented you from enjoying the same activities that you used to enjoy, an insurance company can simply point to these social media posts to shoot down your claim.
Instagram, the picture-sharing platform, is another popular source of evidence for insurance company investigators. Avoid using Instagram to upload any pictures while your personal injury claim is being settled. Even something as simple as pictures of that delicious dinner that you made for your friends can actually be used by an insurance company as evidence that your knee injury isn’t as severe as you claim it is. After all, your injury didn’t prevent you from standing for several hours while whipping up culinary delights. You’ll also want to avoid posting personal pictures on Pinterest or videos of yourself having fun with your friends on YouTube. An insurance investigator will be looking for precisely these kinds of photos and videos.
Mistakes that are made on social media during the course of a personal injury procedure can be difficult to counter, but not impossible. For instance, your attorney may try to argue that your Facebook post claiming that you’re feeling “absolutely great” today after a workout session was simply made in order to keep up appearances. Everyone knows that people post only positive images and comments about themselves on Facebook. However, that isn’t necessarily how jurors will interpret your posts. An innocent mistake could cost you substantially in lost compensation.
AVOIDING SOCIAL MEDIA MISTAKES
One of the first things that a good personal injury lawyer will probably suggest to you when you meet to discuss a personal injury claim is to reduce or completely eliminate your social media activity. That is sound advice. It might even be a good idea to delete your social media accounts altogether. The temptation to log in to your Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter accounts can be too strong for many people, and deleting your account might be the answer. Facebook also lets you temporarily “deactivate” your account and restore it later. While you want the strongest possible privacy settings, everyone should realize that nothing is ever really, completely deleted from the internet. It’s stored somewhere, and attorneys, insurance companies, and law enforcement agencies can usually find anything that’s ever been online. On Facebook, your friends’ accounts can also be accessed to find items that you’ve posted. Never, ever discuss online your accident, your injury, your claim, or anything related to those topics. Don’t announce that you have filed a claim for damages for your injuries. Avoid uploading any personal photographs to any website, no matter how innocent those pictures may seem. Follow this simple rule: if you would not want the insurance company to see it, don’t put it online.
If you are maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle while your personal injury claim is pending, ask your friends to avoid “tagging” you or “checking” you in at various locations when you’re out and about town. You might not be uploading the pictures yourself, but if a friend has tagged you in party pictures that clearly show you drinking, dancing, and having a good time on your feet, these pictures can easily be used as evidence against you in an accident or personal injury case.
Go through your past history on Facebook – and every other social media site where you are active – and remove anything that may be used as evidence against you. For instance, if you had posted about a “maddening pain” in your shoulder two months before your accident, you might want to delete that post. It could be used as evidence that your shoulder injury existed prior to the accident that is the focus of your personal injury claim. An insurance investigator may or may not find that kind of post, but if you leave it online, it will certainly be found.
Something else you should watch for when you file a personal injury claim is the “stealth” friend request. An insurance investigator may try to send you a friend request on Facebook to gain access to content you’ve posted on the site. Be very cautious about screening new friends while your claim is pending, or impose on yourself a temporary moratorium on accepting any new friend requests, at least until your case is settled.
YOUR BEST DEFENSE
Remember, even the kind of groups or communities that you’re a member of could actually be used against you. Be very cautious about joining groups or communities on Facebook that are engaged in any kind of activities that could possibly look “suspicious” to an insurance adjuster – especially any groups dealing in any way with health, healthcare, or physical fitness. Genuinely, your best defense against such insurance company tactics is simply to close all of your social media accounts until your personal injury claim is settled. That completely eliminates the possibility that anyone will be able to post information that will incriminate you, or that insurance companies or opposing attorneys will be able to access information that they can use against you.
Continue that self-imposed moratorium for a few days after the insurer or defendant settles. The last thing that you want to do the day after receiving a substantial settlement from an insurance company is to boast on Facebook about your plans to go on a luxury holiday with the money. Frequently, a personal injury settlement will include a confidentiality clause, and you must take it seriously. Don’t speak with anyone – at all – about your personal injury settlement. Social media may have many benefits, but when it comes to filing a personal injury claim, the risk of using social media actually outweighs its value. If you have been injured by negligence, you are entitled to compensation and you should see a personal injury lawyer at once. In California, learn more, or discuss filing a personal injury claim by contacting an experienced California personal injury attorney.