Follow these social media rules if you’ve been in an auto accident to protect your privacy and avoid defense tactics that could hurt your case
Social media means the insurance company can conduct surveillance on you 24 hours a day. And a lot of good people who have very serious injuries are being further hurt because of what they’re posting on their social media accounts.
I’ve warned my own clients who have been injured in serious auto accidents time and time again about how using social media can jeopardize their recovery in pain and suffering lawsuits. Remember, insurance company defense attorneys and claims adjusters in every single case nowadays are looking you up social media accounts like Facebook, Twitter, blogs, Instagram, YouTube, etc. The purpose is to find anything to mitigate what they to pay. They will monitor your activity and attempt to use posts and pictures you have online to argue you’re not as injured as you claim.
Defense attorneys are even going so far as to try to access cell phones, computers and hard drives. In my brain injury cases, I’ve had defense attorneys go to court seeking access to e-mails and checking account books to argue the activity is not consistent with someone who has a traumatic brain injury.
Today, I want to share some social media tips so accident victims in litigation can avoid this. These suggestions come from my friend Ken Shigley. Ken is a fantastic attorney, and a partner with Shigley Law in Atlanta.
- Archive the content of current accounts: Destruction of potential evidence may create bigger problems than the information itself, so it’s important that your clients preserve the current content of any social media accounts. Most sites include directions for doing so. Consider designating a law firm staff member to help clients archive correctly.
- Deactivate or stop using social media accounts: Tell your clients to consider deactivating their Facebook profiles and other accounts. If it’s possible, your clients should, after archiving, remove any information that could touch upon their injuries or activities and avoid future posting.
- Turn on the highest privacy settings: If your clients won’t stop using social media, they should set their privacy settings to the highest level, including making sure only friends see their information, rather than “friends of friends” or the general public. Facebook’s “View as” feature is a helpful tool that allows users to view their profiles as they appear to someone else, whether a stranger or a “friend.” Warn your clients that Facebook publicly displays their “interests,” even if their accounts are otherwise set to private.
- Be aware of “friends”: Tell your clients to create “friend lists” so that only certain friends can see their photo albums and status updates. They should remove any “friends” they do not know well or at all, and accept friend requests only from people they trust.
- Invisibility: Your clients can remove themselves from Facebook service results by selecting “only friends” under the “search visibility” option in their profile settings. They can also remove themselves from Google by unchecking the box for “Public Search Listing” in their Internet privacy settings. They should make comparable changes to privacy settings on all other social media accounts.
- Take down photos: After archiving current content, your clients should remove and un-tag all photos of themselves that are not simple head shots.
- Be cautious: Your clients should assume that anything they write on their social media accounts – including status updates, messages and wall postings – will at some point be seen by defense lawyers, judges and juries. Advise them to think about how such postings might be perceived, especially when taken out of context.
- Preserve all computers, tablets, cell phones: If your client loses or destroys an electronic communication device, opposing counsel could try to portray it as deliberate destruction of evidence. It is better to fight a battle over access to your clients’ devices than to have a judge instruct a jury that it may assume the content of the discarded or destroyed device would have been unfavorable to your client.
- Don’t send messages or information about the case: Emphasize to your clients that they should not send e-mails, texts, or “private” social media message about their claim, health or activities to anyone except their lawyers. Careless communication can destroy a case.
- Don’t join websites or chat groups: Make it clear to your clients that they don’t own the information they post online, and that information they post is highly searchable. They should not enter any information on dating or insurance websites, post on message boards, participate in or comment on social media “private” groups or blogs, or use chat rooms.
Here are a few blog posts I’ve written on the topic as it applies to car and truck accident victims:
And here’s an important webpage I pass on to every single one of our Michigan Auto Law clients.