If I File a Lawsuit, Is My Facebook Information Private?
Over the last several years, it has become routine for individuals to share nearly every detail of their lives on social media sites such as Facebook. A quick glance at your newsfeed will likely reveal pictures of your friends’ meals, pets, and family vacations. Indeed, a 2019 study published by Pew Research Center found that nearly seven-in-ten adults in the U.S. are now on Facebook. Further, nearly three-quarters of those U.S. adults on Facebook visit the site at least once per day. These figures should not surprise you. Facebook can be great for keeping up with friends and family. Before you post, however, you should know that the information you publish or otherwise add to your social media accounts is NOT private. If you file a personal injury lawsuit, you may be required to disclose all of the information you have posted to social media, regardless of your privacy settings.
Personal information posted to Facebook may be used against you!
If you file a personal injury claim, insurance companies and defense attorneys will search your Facebook and social media accounts. Even if you have strict privacy settings limiting who can view your account, after filing a lawsuit, this information may need to be disclosed in discovery. Discovery is the process through which each side finds out what evidence the other side has. This process is extremely broad and generally permits access to all information and documents that are relevant to a party’s claim or defense. It is now routine for lawyers in the discovery process to ask whether you have a Facebook account, where to find your Facebook account, and whether you have posted anything related to the lawsuit. Courts generally allow this line of questioning and will require you to turn over what you have posted.
Assume anything you publish to Facebook will be scrutinized by the opposing party, and can weaken (or even sink) your personal injury case. Much like employers screening potential job candidates in the hiring process, insurance companies and defense attorneys will comb through the Internet looking for pictures posted or other information to argue you are not as hurt as you claim to be. For example, if you posted a photograph of yourself rock-climbing weeks after filing a lawsuit alleging severe back and shoulder injuries from a car accident, the insurance company will likely use it against you to dispute the severity of your injuries and lower its settlement offer.
Privacy settings may not shield your posts and photographs from the other side!
A common misconception is that setting your Facebook profile to private will protect the information you share with your friends from the opposing party. Courts have wrestled with this question over the years. However, the modern trend is for courts to require individuals to turn over Facebook posts or photographs that may be relevant to the issues of the case. For example, posts that describe your recovery process and the seriousness of your injuries, or photographs that depict the limitations (or lack thereof) the injury has placed on your daily life will likely need to be turned over to the other side regardless of your privacy settings.
Deleting Facebook posts can be seen as destroying evidence!
If you have been injured and are considering filing a personal injury claim, you have a duty to preserve any evidence that may be relevant to your case. This may include Facebook posts, particularly those that deal with your health. Any attempts to delete posts or to “clean up” your Facebook page will be considered destroying evidence. If the issue is brought to the judge’s attention, you could lose your case or face other sanctions, including monetary penalties.
“The Internet is forever.” With today’s technology, everything you post to Facebook or other social media sites is stored and can be traced back to you even after you feel that you have removed it. We encourage you to think before you post anything online, especially when you have been injured through the fault of another party and the information may in any way relate to your personal injury claim.
Best Practices for Facebook Use After an Injury:
- Avoid or limit posting on your Facebook page until your claim is resolved.
- Do not post anything about your case on Facebook. Refrain from bad-mouthing the party at fault for your injuries or discussing the severity of your injuries. Even a simple update like “Thankfully everyone is OK!” after an accident could be used against you.
- Check your privacy settings. Facebook’s privacy page gives you many options to limit who can access the information on your page. Make sure that you limit the visibility of both your past and future posts to only your Facebook friends. Similarly, make sure a post that someone “tags” you in does not go on your page before you are able to review it. While this step will not necessarily protect your information from disclosure in a lawsuit, it will make it more difficult for opposing attorneys and insurance companies to access this information outside of court.
- Do not accept friend requests from someone you do not personally know.
- Be aware that comments you make online may be linked to your Facebook profile and traced back to you. For example, if you are commenting on news articles or other media accounts, assume that the opponent will see what you are commenting on and could present that to a jury in trial.
Our Cincinnati Personal Injury Lawyers
Burg Simpson’s award winning personal injury attorneys have represented clients in Ohio, Kentucky, and across the nation, helping them get the money they need to get back to their lives. Our Cincinnati attorneys have the experience and resources necessary to help individuals navigate the many legal issues that surround their personal injury claims, including how to handle social media after their injury, accident investigation, insurance claims, settlement negotiations, and litigating in court against persons and companies who refuse to take responsibility. If you or a loved one have been injured, fill out our Free Case Evaluation form or call 513-852-5600 to speak with our personal injury lawyers in Cincinnati today!