By Jimmy Rohampton , Forbes
Increasingly, social media is becoming more ingrained and playing a bigger role in our lives. From travel and shopping to healthcare, relationships and even education, social media is impacting decisions that millennials take daily. Also, some colleges do look at college applicants’ social media posts and just days ago, Harvard rescinded admissions offers to 10 students for offensive memes they posted in a private Facebook group.
Interestingly, social media use also brings legal consequences. Stalking, harassment, cyber bullying, even posting evidence of committing crimes online have landed people in court.
However, what you may not realize is that the things you say and do on social media can also have an impact on your ongoing personal injury case. Let’s take a closer look at how this is so.
The entire point of a personal injury lawsuit is to recover damages because your life has been negatively impacted by an injury caused by someone else. The defense attorney’s job is to find evidence that proves that your life has not been negatively impacted, or that you are exaggerating your injuries in some way.
Defense lawyers collect evidence in many ways. They may interview your employer, friends, and neighbors. They may even hire a private investigator to watch you. Their goal is to capture behavior that contradicts your claims and proves that you aren’t suffering as you claimed.
Unfortunately, many plaintiffs make things very easy for the defense, simply by posting things on social media that undermine their claims. For example, a simple post about mowing the lawn could be used as evidence to refute a personal injury claim about a back injury.
“Personal injury cases don’t only involve physical injuries or disabilities,” says Jonathan Marshall, CEO of New Jersey DUI Lawyer. “These cases can also include claims of emotional duress, trauma, and other impacts to mental health and wellbeing. A plaintiff can collect damages if they prove that their quality of life and ability to function has been diminished. Social media posts can also be used against plaintiffs if they seem to contradict claims of mental or emotional trauma. This is especially problematic, because many people only share the positive on social media. This can give the impression to judges and juries alike that the plaintiff really isn’t suffering.”
In one case, a student brought a lawsuit against her teacher, school district and other school officials alleging that she was traumatized because the defendants had failed to protect her when she was pursued and sexually assaulted by her teacher, Danny Cuesta. Defense attorneys used her social media post, which featured her drinking, smiling, and socializing with friends, as evidence to refute her claims.
While this may seem unfair, the truth is it’s a tactic that defense lawyers regularly use.
“If you’ve been injured as a result of the careless or even criminal behavior of an individual, business, or other organization, you may be rightfully angry,” says John Sloan, attorney at Sloan Firm. “However, venting that anger on social media can be a bad idea. People are very quick to define others as ‘sue happy’ or out to make a quick buck by exaggerating claims just to get settlement money, so defendants are often eager to find ways to exploit these attitudes and make plaintiffs seem as if they are simply out to get money.”
The infamous McDonald’s hot coffee lawsuit is strong evidence of this. They may even look for ways to claim that the basis for the suit against them is sour grapes or bad blood rather than any actual injury.
By posting negatively about the defendant on social media, you can play right into that. Angry posts can be used to paint you as being bitter, unhinged, or simply out to paint the defendant in a negative light.
If positive social media posts about your life could negatively affect your case, how about just sharing posts about your injuries and how they affect your life on social media while your personal injury claim lasts?
Actually, that’s a bad idea too. Posting about your injuries can open legal doorways for the defense. Even seemingly simple personal injury cases can be quite complex. These cases involve many professionals. This might include doctors, medical personnel, insurance adjusters and actuaries, attorneys, members of law enforcement and more.
There are many reasons that all of these professionals are involved. They are used to paint a clear picture to the judge or jury regarding the exact nature of the plaintiff’s injuries, how those injuries impact that person’s life, and how long those effects might last. The defense attorney’s job is to find inconsistencies and untruths.
If you post about your injuries on social media, and your description of those injuries don’t align with your claim, this can diminish your case. This is true even when the inconsistencies are unintentional.
If you’re the defendant, you want to exercise caution as well. Social media posts can be used as evidence against you too to negatively impact the outcome of a case against you, and the compensation awarded against you should you be found liable.
Ultimately, there is little social media can do to help you as a plaintiff or defendant in a personal injury case. To be safe, give everything you post very careful consideration and consider adjusting privacy settings but the best approach in the end is probably to take a break from social media altogether.
Ourfalian & Ourfalian has successfully represented thousands of individuals and small businesses throughout the San Fernando Valley and Southern California over the last four decades. Our experienced attorneys focus on civil litigation which includes but is not limited to helping injury victims get just compensation after serious accidents. There is a distinct culture at Ourfalian & Ourfalian that is not easy to characterize but is felt everyday by the firm’s employees and clientele. Contact our Glendale Personal Injury & Civil Litigation law practice today to schedule a free initial consultation.