If you've been hurt in a car accident and are involved in a lawsuit with insurance companies and the other involved parties, you really need to think long and hard about your activity on your Facebook page. In fact, you may want to consider not posting anything at all.
So, what's the big deal? When you're involved in a lawsuit, you can bet the opposing counsel – the lawyers and adjusters from the insurance companies that represent the person that hit you – will aggressively be watching your posts, and checking out your photos. It's their job to uncover ANY evidence that you may be faking your injuries, or collecting information about your overall activities. Any posts about what an idiot the other driver was, how stupid their insurance adjusters are or similar topics can – and believe me, will – be used against you.
Now, your initial thought may be, ‘hey – as long as I am telling the truth, what have I got to fear'? Well, that may or may not be true. Fact is, some less than scrupulous defense attorneys and insurance claims adjusters will go to great lengths to make you look bad in front of a jury. Let's say there is a photo on your Facebook page of you partying like an animal BEFORE you were in the accident. If you think the defense attorneys will not blow that sucker up to poster-size and show it to the jury, think again. And frankly, they may say it was taken AFTER the crash, even though it was not. Then it becomes a matter of what the jury believes, not whether it is the truth or not. The old say that ‘perception is reality' is really in play here. Frankly, juries are more willing to believe people they like. A photo of you doing Jello shots in a strip club while wearing your I LOVE BEER t-shirt will not garner much affection from the jury.
And it's not just recent postings that may cause you problems. Just recently, a lawyer in Virginia told his client to remove some images from his Facebook page, AFTER the opposing lawyer in an accident case requested copies of them. A judge suspended the attorney's license for 5 years, and ordered him and his client to pay $722,000 to the defendant for legal fees. So, let's be clear here – we're not telling you to delete any photos – we're telling you to be careful what you post in the first place.
It's very tempting to go off on a rant about your personal situation after you've been hurt in a car crash. You're ticked off, and you want to tell the world. But, taking things a step further than just Facebook, consider that in some cases, a judge may feel compelled to order you and your attorneys to provide your social media password details, and maybe even access to your personal email accounts.
You may think that altering your privacy and security settings to allow only ‘friends' to see your Facebook content is adequate protection against those seeking defamatory or unflattering information about you. But when you post comments to other people's walls, those comments will be easily accessible to anyone who really wants to find them. Facebook has a ‘search' function, and you can bet it will be used extensively to uncover whatever you're talking about.
OK, so let's say you still don't think it's necessary to deactivate your Facebook – or Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram or any other social media site, for that matter – let me give you a little more advice. And to be clear, deactivation is not the same as DELETING your account. Completely deleting your account may end up causing you and your attorney even more problems. Here are a few tips to consider if you feel you just can't live without being socially connected until your case has been resolved:
- Don't allow other people to ‘tag' you in ANY photo or online video.
- Don't disclose ANYTHING about what's happening in your personal life.
- Don't post ANYTHING concerning the person you feel is responsible for causing the crash.
- Don't accept any friend requests from someone you don't REALLY know.
- Don't post any content in any chat rooms, message boards or blogs.
- Don't email anyone other than your own attorney regarding your case.
Remember, just because you may not be actively using your Facebook account, others can still tag you in photos and post content to your wall.
These days, it is not only expected that an attorney or insurance adjuster is going to hunt down your social media accounts to see what you're up to – it's a given. And, it's one of the first things they'll do once you enter into a lawsuit.
You have the whole rest of your life to post silly photos on Facebook AFTER your trial is resolved. Stay away from the keyboard until that time, or you can risk jeopardizing any financial compensation you may be entitled to for your injuries, loss of work, and pain and suffering.
If you've been hurt in an accident, I'd be happy to meet with you at no charge to talk about your circumstances. Whether you end up hiring me or not, a little advice can go a long way in protecting your legal rights.