There’s a lot to think about after being injured in an accident. You have to get medical treatment. You may need weeks or months of therapy. On top of all this, lost wages can make it nearly impossible to pay your doctor’s bills and make ends meet.
If you have a case, and you’re taking it to court, your ordeal may be just beginning. Our Omaha injury attorneys will put together a case that demonstrates the at-fault party’s negligence. Meanwhile, the defendant’s lawyers are gathering your information. They will show the judge you aren’t entitled to any compensation.
Social media has the potential to destroy your case. It’s important that you understand how much your profiles could impact the outcome of your claim.
How Social Media Is Used Against You
You may think everything you post is private or only visible to your friends, but you’d be wrong. Insurance adjusters and lawyers will scour the internet for videos, pictures, and status updates that show that your injuries are not as severe as you claim.
Here’s how they do it: imagine you were injured in a car accident. Not long after your accident, you go to a friend’s party. Your friend takes a picture of you smiling and posts it online. If the lawyers or insurance adjusters representing the other party find this picture, they’ll use it against you. They’ll try to claim that, because you’re smiling, you must be fine!
Any form of social media that shows you having a “good time” can be used to challenge your claims and question your character. In many cases, as in the example above, the evidence doesn’t even belong to you. Even if a friend or family member posts about, it can be used to discredit your claim. If the other party’s insurance adjusters or lawyers are successful, not only will you get less compensation, but you could face criminal charges for filing a “fraudulent” claim.
What is Admissible Evidence
When a personal injury claim goes to trial, the discovery law comes into effect. This law allows both parties to obtain information about the other party by means of discovery, including any information on your social media accounts. This is often accomplished by:
- Requesting answers to interrogatories
- Issuing subpoenas
- Requesting certain documents be produced (medical records, police reports, etc.)
- Asking for access to depositions
While the rules regarding discovery are fairly strict, they don’t provide much information on how social media should be handled in court. Generally, anything that is publicly accessible will be considered admissible evidence.
Private posts are a little trickier. That information shouldn’t be visible to your opponent’s attorneys. However, if they can prove the hidden information may lead to the discovery of admissible evidence, they may be granted access to your private social media information. If the defendant hopes to get any private messages between you and another individual, they’ll have to request a warrant.
Don’t Trust The Privacy Settings
Social media websites try to make their users comfortable by offering customizable privacy settings. While these settings make it harder for someone to access your content, they don’t make it impossible.
There are several reasons why privacy settings fail to keep your information safe. The first is that many of them are based on who can see your posts. Many people have their information visible to friends and “friends of friends.”
While it may seem safe, this setting leaves a dangerous loophole that could allow an insurance adjuster or lawyer to send a friend request to someone you know. If they accept, that adjuster or attorney can see everything you post.
How else can your privacy settings be made obsolete? The social media terms of service include a clause allowing them to give the authorities your private information in “certain investigations.”
So yes, you can change your privacy settings to be stricter. But beware: privacy setting changes do not apply to content posted prior to those changes. Instead, always assume that everything you post online could be discovered by anyone, anywhere, at any time.
What Not to Post on Social Media After an Accident
A good rule of thumb for this kind of thing is: if you think it might hurt your chances of a successful settlement, don’t post it. Even if you have the slightest doubt, it is better to be safe than sorry.
The following is a list of things to avoid on social media when filing a personal injury claim:
- Status updates that talk about you doing physical activity or traveling
- Photos or videos that show you doing physical activity or traveling
- Posts or comments admitting fault or accusing someone of being at-fault
- Updates from apps that track your location
- Updates from fitness or activity monitoring apps
- Check-ins from apps like Yelp or Foursquare
- Posts that give details of your accident or case (including financial details)
- Negative comments regarding the at-fault party’s insurance company, lawyers, or the amount of time the case is taking
- Conversations with your attorney
- Posts that give any information on your medical diagnosis or treatment
How to Protect Your Personal Injury Claim
The best way to keep your case safe is to not use social media at all. Most sites have an option for temporarily freezing or deactivating your accounts. You may not want to give up social media but you can significantly reduce the risk of your online life being used against you if you do.
If you can’t give it up, the following tips can keep your online presence from affecting your case:
- Don’t talk about the accident. Don’t post any pictures or make any comments. In fact, it’s best to not post anything about the accident or your injuries. If you need to tell friends and family, do it in person.
- Google yourself. The defendant’s team of lawyers and insurance adjusters is going to Google you; a lot. Do it yourself and talk to your lawyer if there is anything you find worrisome.
- Don’t delete anything from before the accident. First, deleting something looks like an admission of guilt in court. Second, pretty much everything on the internet that’s been “deleted” is still accessible in some capacity. Talk to your lawyer before deleting anything.
- Update your privacy settings. As we’ve discussed, these won’t necessarily prevent someone from finding you online, but they can make it harder. Set your posts/profile to be visible to “only friends.” You can also uncheck the “public search listing” option in the privacy settings to ensure you will not show up in search engine results.
- Turn off geotracking apps. If you’ve authorized an app, such as Yelp, to automatically check-in or post your location, make sure to disable it.
- Disable tagging. The tagging option allows your friends to tag you in photos, videos, updates, and locations. Turning this option off removes the possibility that a friend or family member could impact your case.
- Don’t join new groups or pages. The defendant’s attorney could argue that socialization, even online, means that you’re fine or not suffering.
- Turn off automatic app sharing. Many apps collect and automatically share your info. Check your application settings to make sure this feature is off on every app you use.
- NEVER accept new friend requests. These could very well be from insurance adjusters who are trying to get their hands on your personal information.
Protect Your Case; Fight for Your Rights
Social media doesn’t have to ruin your case. If you use common sense and pay attention to what your posting, there shouldn’t be much the defendant’s side can do to use your accounts against you.
Regardless, handling any kind of personal injury claim is not for the faint of heart. It takes piles of paperwork, hours of research, and a lot of work. If you’ve been injured, schedule your free consultation with Hauptman, O’Brien, Wolf & Lathrop, P.C. by calling 402-253-0362.