Posted in Car Accidents on February 14, 2023
Social media is an indelible part of 21st century communication with 59.4 percent of people accessing social media platforms worldwide. That’s 4.76 billion people accessing news, looking for inspiration, keeping in touch with family and friends or otherwise filling in spare time. Posting opinions, sharing personal updates and photos, responding to comments and other people’s posts keep us connected, creating a digital footprint that follows us wherever we go–even into the courtroom.
Below are two examples of people who were adversely affected by their social media posts. Each personal injury case differed, but defense attorneys dug into each account to the detriment of each plaintiff.
Brannon Crowe experienced how an seemingly innocuous social media post can upend a personal injury lawsuit first-hand. After an alleged workplace injury, Crowe filed a personal injury lawsuit against Marquette Transportation asking for various financial damages. Marquette obtained a Facebook message that Crowe sent to a friend that his knee injury happened on a fishing trip. When the court asked Crowe for his account information, Crowe claimed that he had no Facebook account, that someone created one in his name. To sum up, Crowe had deactivated his account a few days after the court’s request which made it appear that the posts were being hidden purposely. Crowe had to pony up and give his account–over 4,000 pages–over to the U.S. District Court Eastern District of Louisiana.
Hairdresser Omeisha Daniels posted on social media all a-Twitter about her weekend partying with friends in New Orleans. It was 2011 and Daniels had sustained multiple injuries, including a broken arm, in an auto accident in Georgia that she claimed kept her from working as a hairdresser. The jury in Daniels’ personal injury case returned a $237,000 verdict, although Daniels had sought $1.1 million in medical and punitive damages. After the defense attorney submitted posts and pictures to the jury of that epic weekend in New Orleans, the jury reduced her award nearly $100,000.
According to a 2016 ruling handed down by the U.S. District Court Middle District of Louisiana during Baxter v. Anderson, social media postings that meet one of the following criteria can be used by the defense in a personal injury case:
Is there a reasonable expectation of privacy in social media use? The jury’s still out. In the meantime, protecting social media posts and photos from invisible eyes remains the domain of the user.
Governor John Bel Edwards signed the Civil Justice Reform Act of 2020. Two important reforms include:
Reversal of the Seatbelt Gag Rule. Defendants are now allowed to present evidence to a jury that a plaintiff was not wearing a seatbelt at the time of the accident.
More Access to Jury Trials. Many court cases involved bench trials. The CJRA lowered the minimum amount in controversy to $10,000 for cases with damages. A $5,000 jury bond must be posted with the court clerk within 60 days or the right to a jury is waived.
Reforms also include insurance claims and monies collectible under the newly codified Collateral Source Rule. At first glance, it may not seem that these reforms could affect a personal injury lawsuit. However, if a plaintiff mentions insurance or anything pertaining to their personal injury case in their social media posts, then defense attorneys have the right to discovery and to use it in court.
Maintaining a secure Internet presence requires some due diligence. Being aware of your digital surroundings will help keep you protected and safe online. In general:
Basic security measures like these help protect you online.
Perhaps the best way to protect yourself online is to remember “once online, always online.” Even if social media posts aren’t visible, they are in a database somewhere.
If there’s pending litigation, such as a personal injury lawsuit, be mindful of what is posted on social media, even if an account is set to “private.” The intent of social media is to share information, but with litigation pending, too much sharing can be a detriment.
Plaintiffs with pending personal injury lawsuits should avoid posting anything on social media that would give the defense fodder for their case.
Even friends who innocently post a picture or video on their social media can harm a personal injury case. Isolated incidents where injuries sustained during an accident aren’t bothersome that day can quickly become part of the defense’s arsenal. It is their job to exploit your digital footprint for evidence of anything that could contradict claims made in the lawsuit.
Perception is everything in a personal injury lawsuit. The facts of the case don’t change. A car accident happens and is documented. It is tougher to document emotional loss. There is no typical timeframe of pain and suffering as each personal injury is unique to the person suffering it. Everyone handles their emotions in their own way. Reaching out to friends and family on social media may seem a way to cope, but if a defense attorney can show that a plaintiff’s claims are exaggerated or unfounded through social media, then that coping mechanism turns into evidence that can be used against the plaintiff.
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