A recent article on the Forbes website highlights the risks associated with social media accounts when someone is party to a lawsuit. Claimants need to be aware of how their online presence can affect their potential case outcomes.
Most people know that the information they post online can be viewed by friends and followers, but it is important to remember that nearly all of that information can also be accessed by investigators for use in court. For example, in a recent court case in Pennsylvania, titled Largent v. Reed, the plaintiff alleged an accident caused her severe and lasting injuries. However, the plaintiff’s Facebook photos told a different story.
With the court’s permission, the defense presented as evidence photos from the plaintiff’s social media, depicting her enjoying normal physical activities and even going to the gym. The court then ordered discovery of all the plaintiff’s Facebook information, requiring her to hand over her username and password to the defense.
Claimants should know that everything they say and post online has the potential to become discoverable, and possibly admissible evidence – even private messaging. Just like text messages and emails, messages and chat conversations on social media can be obtained and admitted into evidence. Password protection and encryption will not prevent the defense from gaining social media information with a court order.
All of this said, it is also important for claimants to preserve their social media information in anticipation of lawsuits, and particularly after the onset of lawsuits. Deletion of any posts or photos can be interpreted as destruction of evidence and can result in a negative inference from the court. To avoid a battle over social media, plaintiffs should be thoughtful about everything they post and ask their attorneys if they have any questions about specific content or subject matters.
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