Social Networking and Personal Injury: Honesty Isn’t Enough
You may have never given it a second thought, but what you’re doing on Facebook right now may be ruining your personal injury case. Social media is more and more common and insurance companies and defense lawyers are exploiting the snippets of information they find online to avoid paying injured people. Learn why honesty isn’t enough and get tips on what you can do to avoid damaging your personal injury case through social media use.
Social networking is a part of almost everyone’s life these days. Consider these statistics:
- Facebook now has more than 500 million users and continues to grow.
- People are spending, on average, a total of more than 700 billion minutes per month on Facebook.
- About 150 million active users are using their mobile devices to access Facebook.
- Every month, more than 30 billion content pieces are shared, including links, news stories, and blog entries.
- There are over 100 million registered Twitter users.
- Every day, about 300,000 new users sign up for Twitter.
- Nearly 55 million Twitter tweets are sent each day.
- Twitter’s search engine gets about 600 million search inquiries daily.
- Two billion videos a day are viewed on YouTube.
- Every minute, 24 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube.
- YouTube receives about 96.1 million unique visits each month.
Not surprisingly, insurance companies and defense lawyers have learned that these social media are treasure troves of information that can be used to diminish or destroy an Erie personal injury victim’s case. Pictures of an injured person smiling or appearing to have fun can be used to suggest that the injured person can’t be in as much pain as they suggest. Commentary among friends to the effect that an injured person “had fun last night” or “would love to go dancing again” can be used to similar effect. And heaven help the injured person who says that they can’t do something (like dancing) and then posts a picture, video, or commentary demonstrating otherwise.
I wish the solution to this problem was as simple as telling people, as we do, to always tell the truth. That’s part of it, certainly. We remind all of our clients that it is absolutely critical to be honest and forthcoming with everyone in a personal injury lawsuit: their doctor; their lawyer; and the insurance company or defense lawyer. But honesty really isn’t enough. Here’s the problem:
Who doesn’t smile for a photo? Seriously. You may be aching and exhausted, but when someone says, “Cheese!” you’re going to smile, right? And that photo of you and your smile will NOT reveal to someone who sees it a year later that you were in pain when the photo was taken. On the contrary, it’ll look like you were happy and having fun.
Well, Facebook and Twitter and other media are like photos. Sometimes, they literally include photos. But more generally, these media collect little snippets of our lives, like snapshots of ourselves that we present to the world. And the presentation most of us make to the world is of our best selves. Most people are going to resist complaining about their pain or their limitations because they don’t want to be perceived as whiners. Most people are going to try to be social and engaged, even when they hurt. And when we post those photos or we make some comment, we reveal snapshots of “our best face” — which may not be our “true face.”
And video, by the way, is no different, except that it may be even worse. People with cameras love to take video of action. So, when you’re smiling and laughing, you’ll be the darling of the camera. But when you’ve had enough and go sit on the couch by yourself while everyone else keeps on going, where is the camera then? Not on you, certainly. So the jury someday will only see the happy, active video. You can tell them that you ached for days afterward. You can tell them that you spent the last two hours of the party on a couch in a dark room while your friends partied on. But they won’t see any of that.
So, what to do about social media while you’re in the midst of an Erie personal injury case? I recommend five things:
- Don’t Use Social Media. I get it. Most people are going to ignore this advice. I wish you wouldn’t because social media really can do nothing good for your case but can cause a great deal of harm. Still, I understand that people can’t put their lives on hold while an Erie injury case is pending. So, if you’re going to use social media no matter what, I recommend, then….
- Post as Little as Possible. No photos, please. No video, for crying out loud. Avoid characterizing or describing your activities. And never discuss the specifics of your case, your injuries, your treatment, your hopes or plans related to the case, or your conversations with your lawyer.
- Don’t Just Be Honest, Be Accurate and Complete. Honesty is important, of course. But I’m assuming you’ll be honest. Where most people err is by being less than accurate or incomplete. If you’re going to post information about yourself, be careful to be strictly factual. Consider, for example, the difference between, “Dancing last night was great!” and “I had fun watching you guys dance.” If you went with friends to a ski lodge but never went skiing, please make that clear. If you went bowling but sat out the last game because your back injury flared up, say as much. Just saying, “Had a great time at Peek n’ Peak guys!” and posting photos of your pals on the slopes might convey an inaccurate message.
- Check Privacy Settings. Look, there’s no way that anything you post on the internet is private. So, don’t fool yourself into thinking that this tip is a cure-all. But it nevertheless makes sense to set your privacy settings such that only people who you approve are permitted to look at your postings.
- Don’t Talk to Strangers. Finally, don’t accept “Friend” requests from people you don’t know. Even if the person who wants to befriend you is “cute” and even if they seem friendly, you shouldn’t let them have access to your private information if you don’t know them. Nor, for that matter, should you respond to their e-mails. Maybe that friendly, cute person really wants to get to know you — but if you don’t already know them, then there’s a very good chance that they’re up to no good and may be an insurance adjustor or defense investigator.
The Bottom Line
While we wish that injury victims would heed our first tip and avoid social media use, we know that most of you won’t. So, if you’ve got to use social media during your injury case, then here, in a nutshell, is our advice: be careful, cautious, discreet, honest, and accurate.
At Purchase, George & Murphey, P.C., we are local Erie lawyers who are committed to educating people about Pennsylvania car accident cases and other injury cases. In addition to the articles and videos that are available to you here on our site, we’ve also authored a book that we offer for free to people who’ve been injured in Pennsylvania car crashes. In “The Ultimate Guide to Pennsylvania Car Accident Cases: A Roadmap to Justice,” we explain all the ins and outs of Pennsylvania car accidents, from the insurance you buy to what to do after an accident to how to choose the right lawyer for you and your case.
For a free consultation with one of our experienced Erie injury lawyers, call today at 814-833-7100 or locally at 814-833-7100.