Privacy, Personal Injury, and Social Media

Categories: Personal Injury

California Personal Injury

People who say personal injury damage awards are too large have no idea what victims endure. Following an accident, a year or more can go by before a victim receives a cent from a defendant who is clearly at fault. The victim suffers physically, emotionally, and financially during this time. Some go completely broke due to medical expenses. They must also sacrifice their privacy in ways the rest of us take for granted.

For example, when most people visit the doctor, the information they share remains confidential. Strangers do not get to look at the records to see what happened behind the exam room door. Plaintiffs in a personal injury lawsuit do not have this protection because they are considered to have put their physical condition “at issue” in the case.

Given the lack of privacy victims already experience, it is unfortunate how much personal information is voluntarily conveyed to the defense through social media posts. In fact, social media has become the most common way for victims to unknowingly sabotage their case. This behavior needs to stop – not just because it is detrimental to plaintiffs, but because it leads juries to misconstrue evidence and reach false conclusions.

Social Media Posts Can Give the Wrong Impression

To understand why personal injury attorneys are so adamant about their clients avoiding social media, try the following. Turn on a cable news station like CNN. At the same time, open your Facebook feed. Compare what you see. Odds are, the news is reporting something “negative” (conflict, scandal, disaster), and your social media friends are discussing something “positive” (encouragement, triumph, humor).

These are broad generalizations, but they are well documented. People tend to portray themselves on social media in a way that casts a positive light on their lives. There is nothing wrong with this. It is social media, after all. Choosing not to dwell on the negative is simply good manners. If you were at a cocktail party, would you go around telling everyone how you live in a constant state of misery and pain?

Of course, many injury victims do live in misery and pain. They just choose not to post photos about it on Instagram. Tragically, when they experience a moment of happiness and share it on social media, they are later punished for it. Defendants and their lawyers are notorious for using social media posts to argue victims are exaggerating their suffering.

A hypothetical serves to illustrate. Following a slip and fall accident, you are released from the hospital with an ankle injury. You decide to have dinner with friends in one of the following ways (and you post photos and captions of the meal):

  • You are concerned about finances because of your medical bills. To save money, you stay home and cook for your friends.

Defense argument: If you can stand on your feet and cook a meal, your ankle must not hurt very much.

  • You are too exhausted to leave the house, so you ask your friends to come to your place and you order delivery.

Defense argument: You must not be suffering because you are hosting social events.

  • You are in too much pain to grocery shop and you are tired of takeout food from your hospital stay. You join your friends at a restaurant.

Defense argument: Being out and about is proof your ankle injury does not impede your mobility.

Remember, defense lawyers will do more than introduce social media posts as evidence – they will “spin” the evidence to try to reduce your compensation.

Take a Break from Posting During Your Case

Apprehension over future litigation should not control your life as an accident victim. It is perfectly acceptable to eat out or invite friends over. If the matter comes up in deposition, the plaintiff’s testimony on the subject is unlikely to harm the case. However, evidence of these same activities can be devastating if memorialized on Twitter with a smiling photo of the victim and a hashtag indicating life is great. To avoid giving the wrong impression, injury victims should keep their social lives private while the case is pending.