Social networking is how millions of Americans spend their time online each day, but the use of popular platforms like Facebook and Twitter could actually jeopardize your lawsuit. Social marketing continues to allow people to document their lives, but sharing too much information can get you into trouble. Websites like Facebook and LinkedIn are used by young adults around the country to post profiles, share information with friends and family, and often to complain about problems that arise in everyday life.
It should come as no surprise that many people are tempted to post about car accidents they were involved in, including the sharing of details about litigation. Even if you have privacy filters in place, you should be careful about sharing information about your accident on social media. Much of the information that is posted on your personal accounts is considered public record in a court of law. Even if you are careful about who you allow onto your friend’s list, you have no real expectation of privacy when it comes to a lawsuit.
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Discovery rules allow any information that is relevant to your case and not privileged to be requested by opposing legal counsel. The process of reviewing such information during the months and weeks leading up to a trial is known as discovery. This is when it is most important to discuss any potential items with your Arizona accident lawyer to prevent any unwanted discoveries. Many Arizona courts have determined that content shared on social networking websites is not considered privileged. This means that if you return from an accident to post about the events leading up to it on social media and mention that you were tired that day, the opposing counsel could use that information to suggest that your tiredness contributed to your accident.
One famous case involved a plaintiff who sued for damages after a rear-end collision. He claimed to have suffered injuries during the accident, but the discovery phase of his trial found Facebook posts that countered his claims. The defense was allowed to view his private postings on the grounds that they were not privileged information. The court ruled that as long as information on a social network is relevant to a lawsuit, it is fair game during the discovery process.
In another well-known case called Zimmerman v. Weise Markets, Inc., the plaintiff charged that he had suffered significant injuries while operating a forklift in his employer’s warehouse. The plaintiff complained about injuries to his leg, especially a scar that had caused him significant distress. He claimed that he was embarrassed to wear shorts due to the scar, but once the defense viewed his Facebook page and found pictures of the plaintiff wearing shorts and performing activities he claimed he was unable to do, his case was severely compromised.
The court in the Zimmerman case held that there is no privilege for information on the private sections of websites like Facebook. The court ordered the plaintiff to give his username and password to the defense for further investigation. These two cases illustrate how differently the idea of privilege is viewed by the public and by the court system.
The discoverability of information posted on social media platforms raises many issues for those filing a lawsuit. The courts largely seem to rule in favor of the defense when it comes to making private information posted on social media available for discovery. If your public profile contains information that is at all related to your claims, the defense may easily gain access to your private postings as well. Due to this trend, it is to your benefit to be cautious about what you post on social media.
Even seemingly harmless claims such as, “I’m feeling better after the accident,” could compromise your case. To maximize your chances at a successful lawsuit, only share what information is necessary with friends and family offline. Creating a posting on social media creates a record that can be used against you in court.
If you are filing a lawsuit, it is advisable to discuss social media use and what to do after an accident with a professional auto accident attorney. Your attorney can help you understand what information is and is not privileged. In general, you can only rely on the information you share with your attorney being privileged. The common definition of private information does not always hold up in court, especially if you share pictures and discussions about an accident.
While it is tempting to update friends on social media about your condition, you may be creating a permanent record of facts that are subject to change. The defense can then use those public statements to hold you to claims that are no longer true, such as feeling fine after an accident only to develop a soft tissue injury days later.
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