In today’s social media age, it has become relatively easy to track down an old friend from high school or college. Unfortunately, insurance companies and defense attorneys know the same tricks. It is important to remember that if your pictures, tweets, biographies and blogs are public, then they can be seen by anyone. Remember, the internet goes beyond just your Facebook and Twitter accounts. There may be pictures of you on friend’s pages or on other internet websites that you don’t even know about. In the context of a personal injury claim, anything you post on the internet can potentially come back to harm your case.
The law is relatively new, but there have already been favorable rulings prohibiting the disclosure of account access to Facebook. Piccolo v Paterson, a Pennsylvania case, involves a claim for personal injuries arising out of a car accident. When the airbag deployed, it left the Plaintiff’s face seriously disfigured, necessitating cosmetic surgery. The defendants had obtained numerous pictures taken before and after the accident in discovery. However, in Plaintiff’s deposition, she admitted to having a Facebook page, the defendants attempted to obtain full access to her account to compare her posts to her claims. The defendants filed a Motion to Compel, which was denied on the basis that sufficient information had been obtained in discovery and was available through other means.
Federal law prohibits Facebook from disclosing user content (such as messages, Wall (timeline) posts, photos, etc.) in response to a civil subpoena. Specifically, the Stored Communications Act, 18 U.S.C. ? 2701 et seq., prohibits Facebook from disclosing the contents of an account to any non-governmental entity pursuant to a subpoena or court order.
Parties to civil litigation may satisfy discovery requirements relating to their Facebook accounts by producing and authenticating contents of their accounts and by using Facebook’s “Download Your Information” tool, which is accessible through the “Account Settings” drop down menu.
If a user cannot access content because he or she disables or deleted his or her account, Facebook will, to the extent possible, restore access to allow the user to collect and produce the account’s content. Facebook preserves user content only in response to a valid law enforcement request.
However, in another Pennsylvania case, Zimmerman v Weis Market, the Plaintiff brought a claim for personal injuries after hurting his leg in a forklift accident. The defendants believed that there were pictures of the Plaintiff in shorts, although he testified that he was too embarrassed to wear shorts following the accident. There were also alleged pictures of the Plaintiff performing motorcycle stunts on his Facebook and Myspace pages. The Judge ordered the Plaintiff to turn over the account username and password within 20 days to the defendant. Further, Plaintiff was ordered to not delete any posts or information from his pages.
As with everything in life, you must be careful and responsible about how you use social media. Make sure your privacy settings are adjusted appropriately, and try to be aware about what your friends and family are posting about you.
If you have any questions about other ways the internet can impact your personal injury lawsuit, please contact one of the attorneys in our office.