There are countless cautionary tales about posting too much personal information online. Posting the wrong personal information on social networks can hinder job prospects, and even tip off burglars who can track your whereabouts. But posting the wrong personal information can also affect any lawsuits you may be a part of.
Since the invention of social networking and its meteoric rise as the primary platform of communication to a broad range of people, there have been cases where personal injury plaintiffs who post personal information online have been unsuccessful recouping money for their injuries, or where their award amounts have been drastically reduced.
In one case, a California plaintiff claimed over $2 million in damages after he suffered injuries in a crash in a U.S. Postal Service truck. The plaintiff claimed that due to the injury, every aspect of his life has been affected and would be affected for the rest of his life. The judge only awarded the plaintiff $297,000, some $2,703,000 less than what the plaintiff originally asked for. After reading Facebook posts where the plaintiff claimed painting was frustrating because his arm hair would get caught in the paint, and viewing other inconsistent Facebook postings and surveillance footage, the court questioned the extent of the plaintiff’s injuries and the credibility of the damages requested. The plaintiff in this case was unwise to claim that every activity in his life was affected, and subsequently post to public forums about engaging in painting.
Social network postings with information that is inconsistent with the plaintiff’s theory of the case are easy for defense attorneys to use. It is also information that is easy for defense attorneys to find. As a result, never think this information is safe or separate from your lawsuit. You may feel social networks are separate from your specific lawsuit and the personal injury you sustained, but remember anything that could pertain to your case is discoverable in court. As a result, defense attorney can obtain statements you have made about your injuries or lack thereof, whether online or offline. In some cases, all a defense attorney has to do is logon to Facebook and search your name to find any damaging information to ruin your case.
Even posts that seem relatively harmless, can be used against you by an insurance company’s legal team to attack your credibility. Assume you file a personal injury claim and request a large sum in damages claiming you have excruciating physical pain which limits your activities. After filing your lawsuit, you are invited to your best friend’s wedding, a once in a lifetime opportunity to be there for someone close to you. You decide this is important enough to fight through the excruciating pain. When the couple comes out to dance after the wedding, you are pressured to get on the dance floor. Camera phones are out as people are documenting the special moment on video. However, this video is now discoverable and can be used in court. The video does not show how excruciating your pain is, or how you only decided to go as a one-time event to support your friend. It could capture the one moment you decided to move your feet and dance. Instead of the video showing what you intended, it now appears like you were not in pain, but dancing and enjoying the night. If you or someone else post this video on a social network site, a defense attorney will use it against you, despite how harmless you thought your decision to go to the wedding was.
The insurance company will then go to greater lengths to discover information about you, particularly if you are like the plaintiff above who was demanding a large sum of money.