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Beware: How Facebook could harm your auto accident case

August 15, 2013 by Steven M. Gursten

If you’re in the midst of an auto accident case, the best advice is to stop using social media, such as Facebook, Twitter or personal blogging.  Note that this is not the same thing as deleting your accounts or any photos you post – if you do that you could be in even more trouble (as could the attorney who advises you to do so). But  deactivating your social media and Facebook accounts until your lawsuit is over is a good idea.

Why stop?  Because you can bet that the insurance defense lawyers and the insurance adjusters on the other side are looking at your posts and photos.  And they will make every opportunity to use them against you in your auto accident case.

Ah, but you’re thinking, “I have nothing to fear if I tell the truth. ” You are right and wrong. For example, I used to tell every client that myself. But then I saw the dirty tricks that claims adjusters and defense lawyers were pulling with Facebook.  Take that old picture of you from before your car accident that you put up… Well, that picture ends up being the one that the insurance defense lawyer will be blowing up in court to say that photo was a recent photo “AFTER YOUR CAR ACCIDENT” that reflects how you are really doing.  It doesn’t matter if the photo of you doing activity (fill in the blank) was taken before the lawsuit.  The truth is whatever the jury believes it is. And if you say the social media photo was taken before, and the defense lawyer is alleging it was taken after, the truth might be very different from the story the jury believes.

Since we’re on the subject of juries, let me give you a tip from 20 years of helping people injured in automobile accidents. Juries tend to want to help people they like. And they tend to punish people they don’t like. So, that picture of you having beers with your friends – that doesn’t really help either.

It is now absolutely becoming standard practice for insurance companies to run computer searches and investigations to obtain information about your personal life.  On wrongful death and catastrophic injury trucking  accident cases that have more exposure,  insurance companies are doing this almost immediately after the crash.  They can and will obtain information about you from online, copy and save it, and all without your knowledge and without your permission.

They also can and will also ask the court to order release of your social media password information and even your personal e-mails. Even though most judges are denying these requests, there are some who are allowing this. Be forewarned.

If you choose not to take my advice and temporarily stop using all of your social network accounts, try to least follow these specific recommendations:

Do not:

  • Allow anyone to become a “friend” on a website like Facebook unless you absolutely know that person.
  • Post any photographs or video of yourself (or enable others to “tag” you).  Tagging old photos is one of the best reasons for deactivating your social media accounts, instead of just stopping use until your auto accident lawsuit is over.
  • Write or disclose anything about your personal life.
  • Send e-mails regarding your case to anyone except your own attorney.
  • Write anything  about the person who caused your auto accident.
  • Participate in blogs, chat-rooms or message boards.

Keep in mind, even if your profile is set to private and you block comments on your own wall, when you make comments to other peoples’ walls, they will appear on their wall and the news feed.

A quick, trigger finger post can come back to haunt you, as thousands of college students now applying for jobs are finding out. So just know that whatever you write or post may fall into the hands of the defense attorney or insurance company and could be of devastating consequences in your injury lawsuit for medical bills and pain and suffering compensation.

You have the rest of your life to post and use these accounts.

And what about the dangers to lawyers representing people hurt in auto accident cases? It’s not just auto accident victims who have to be careful with social media. Lawyers who practice personal injury law must be very careful too. Consider this Virginia lawyer, who advised a plaintiff suing over the death of his wife to clean up (i.e. delete) Facebook photos. Attorney Matthew Murray had his law license suspended for five years, and was ordered to pay $722,000 with his client to the defendant for legal fees, according to a story on the ABA Journal: Lawyer agrees to five-year suspension for advising client to clean up his Facebook photos. For lawyers, the consequences of telling clients to actively delete photos can be devastating.

Related information:

6 social media tips for auto injury plaintiffs

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