Social media has changed everything about this country. It changed the way people communicate. It has changed the way companies research employment candidates. And, yes, it has changed the way personal injury cases can be impacted. Some of this change has been good and some bad; this can be especially true when statements are made that can be perceived negatively when that was not the actual intention of the individual making the post.
Social Media Impacting Personal Injury Cases
The worst thing someone involved in a personal injury case can do is post about the case in any way, shape, or form on social media. Unfortunately, today, the first thing many people do is grab their phone and post a live event directly to social media, even when tragedy strikes.
While we would recommend taking pictures if you are injured and able to do so, posting them online presents significant opportunities that could lead to the case being lost inadvertently.
Here are just a few examples of how social media posts can hurt a personal injury lawsuit:
- Misinterpretation of posts
- Inferences about pre-existing injuries
- Conflicting statements and details about the case
Written words have a funny way of expressing the complete opposite of what you are really trying to say. For instance, sarcasm does not always come through in the written word. For instance, let’s say you were injured in a car accident and have been experiencing horrific pain. If you had updated your friends on the situation, a post such as “feeling really GREAT today” that was meant to be sarcastic could be used against you in a courtroom to say you were faking the injury.
Another way this could be used against you could be an online apology. For instance, you were in an accident that was not your fault, but you post a picture of the accident with the word “sorry” attached to it. An attorney could construe that as an admission of guilt.
Inferences About Injuries
This can work against you in two different ways. As mentioned above, by making a post that makes it seem as though you are above the pain, it could be used against you. Using a different example, you were injured and are doing therapy to recover from the injuries. Let’s say part of that therapy is bike riding. After a painful but productive ride, you write something like “crushed my PR.” This could easily be construed that you are no longer in pain and have recovered.
Additionally, if you have a history of opening up on social media about every little nagging pain and among those posts you have listed previous neck or back pain, they injure your back or neck in an accident, an argument could be made that you were complaining about these symptoms long before the accident ever occurred, therefore, those injuries listed are NOT related to the accident in the personal injury case.
One of the more popular features on social media is geo-tagging or checking in at different locations while posting. Now, let’s say you were in an accident where fault is still under question, but you had a tag hours before the accident when you entered a local sports bar to watch the game. It would not be hard for an attorney to make the argument that your driving skills were possibly inhibited by drinking at the bar, even if that was not the case.
This happens far more often than you would think. There is an adage in law enforcement that eyewitnesses are the most unreliable, simply because over time, our minds play tricks on us, which could hurt your case if you were posting and have made a different statement along the process of the lawsuit. For instance, immediately after the injury, you documented what happened on social media, but maybe you forgot to add a key contributing factor when making the post. Then, when you get deposed, you remember something else and add it to the statement. It would not be unusual for the opposing counsel to wonder why this “fact” was left out right after the accident then suddenly remembered months later. If you happen to have pictures posted as well and the new “fact” in your statement was not visibly present, it could derail the case.
Use a Commonsense Approach to Social Media
The best advice we can give on this is to simply use a sensible approach when you are on social media. Keep your account secure so ONLY your friends can see your posts. If you are involved in an accident, leave it out of your social media as well as any reference to injuries and treatment. What we often think is a harmless post can come back to bite us during a legal battle, so it is best to always play it safe to ensure a random post cannot derail your case.
Taryn J. White is a legal research specialist and Injury law news reporter. Her current accomplishments include helping those facing any injuries from vehicle accidents, workplace accidents, and medical malpractice.