If you belong to a public social network such as Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, Twitter, Google Buzz, message boards, etc., it would be extremely prudent to close or suspend such accounts until your personal injury case has wrapped up. If you are unable or unwilling to do so, be advised that you should use great caution while using social networks.
Whatever you post, or have written/posted in the past, will more than likely fall into the hands of the defense attorney or opposing insurance company. As people continue to share more and more personal information online, it has become standard practice for the defense to run computer searches and investigations to obtain information about you and your personal life. They will try to obtain it without your knowledge or permission. Increasingly, they will demand that you provide them with your account passwords and/or ask the court to order release of your password information.
If you belong to such a site, you should immediately verify that your privacy settings are set to the highest level and that nothing is left public. Even with the highest privacy settings, you should only write or post items that cannot be used against you. These sites are open to the public and the law is unclear if or to what extent privacy laws apply.
Our best advice is that you take down your accounts until your case is over.
We understand you may decide to keep your account(s) active. If so, we make the following specific recommendations:
- Allow anyone to become a “friend” on a website like Facebook or MySpace unless you are absolutely sure you know that person.
- Post any photographs or video of yourself (or enable others to “tag” you)
- Write or disclose anything about your personal life that you would be embarrassed to have a defense attorney use against you in front of a judge and jury.
- Send e-mails regarding your case to anyone except your attorneys.
- Send text messages regarding your case to anyone except your attorneys.
- Enter insurance websites.
- Participate in blogs, chat-rooms, or message boards.
We have seen an increase in electronic surveillance of these types of accounts and sites by insurance companies, investigators, and defense attorneys. They hope to discover information to embarrass, humiliate or hurt your case. They will look for pictures or comments posted by you or your friends that they can take out of context to prove that your injury is exaggerated or false. We have seen innocent, harmless joking between private “Friends,” used and distorted by insurance companies to try to convince a judge and jury that a plaintiff is dishonest.
Be aware that the insurance companies may ask the court to order release of all information contained within your home computers and laptop hard drives regarding the issues we have discussed above. We have seen insurance companies subpoena cell phone records to obtain transcripts from texting. We have seen them subpoena Myspace and other social networking sites.
Asking you to limit your social networking is a great inconvenience but your case is very important. You cannot be fully protected unless you follow the above warnings and instructions.