Georgia Law Lacks Clarity Regarding Discoverability of Social Media Posts
The impact of evidence from social media websites is growing in civil lawsuits including personal injury claims. The law is continuing to evolve regarding the right of insurance companies to obtain information posted on social media websites like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and similar websites. While courts in different states have allowed discovery of social media information, the law remains unsettled in many jurisdictions including Georgia. Despite the increasing use of pictures and information posted on social media websites, the appellate courts of Georgia have not produced much authority on this legal issue.
Insurance companies frequently seek information posted on social media sites because the information can be relevant to a range of issues including liability, causation and the severity of injury. The information sought can have a significant impact on the outcome of the case. For example, a car accident victim might disclose that he or she was speeding or post photos of activity inconsistent with a severe injury. The lack of case law on the discoverability of social media information under Georgia law means that injury victims should be extremely cautious about social media posts if they have a pending personal injury claim. The best thing if you have a claim is to stay off of social media or consult with an experienced personal injury lawyer before you do, so that you don't post anything that could be inadvertently construed against you or be used to twist the facts. If you have posted information on a social media site that could compromise your claim, you should seek prompt legal advice from an experienced Atlanta personal injury lawyer who can protect your interest in the face of discovery requests for potentially damaging social media posts.
Because of the scant legal opinions from Georgia courts on this issue, you need an experienced personal injury lawyer who can persuasively handle motions filed by the other party to compel social media information. The decisions regarding these motions will typically be based on federal decisions because the Georgia Civil Practice Act is based on the Federal Rules of Procedure. There are significant competing issues involved in cases in state and federal courts that address discovery of social media information which include privacy, relevance and spoliation of evidence issues.
Courts have generally balanced relevance issues against privacy concerns based on efforts by a plaintiff that indicate a reasonable expectation of privacy. For example, Facebook permits users to use varying levels of security to limit access to information and photos that are posted based on the following designations: (1) public, (2) friends or (3) friend except for a specified group. The information posted in public areas will generally be discoverable if it is reasonably relevant. When the information is posted in one of the other two areas, the issue is more complicated.
The variation in privacy levels on social media sites means the issue of discovery can be more complicated when steps are taken to make the information private. While some legal commentators have argued that the information should be protected because the person took measures demonstrating an intent to protect the information from public disclosure, other commentators disagree. According to this contrary view, the belief that the information will be private is objectively unreasonable because disclosure to those permitted to access the information permits it to be distributed publicly to others.
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If you've been injured in an accident, make sure you know your legal rights and the steps that must be taken to protect those rights. Additionally, if you have questions about how to avoid damaging your personal injury claim by posting information on social media sites, you should seek legal advice. Our experienced personal injury attorneys at Montlick and Associates have been representing those who suffer serious injuries throughout all of Georgia and in the Southeast for over thirty years, including but not limited to all smaller cities and rural areas in the state. No matter where you are located our attorneys are just a phone call away, and we will even come to you. Call us 24 hours a day/7 days a week for your Free Consultation at 1-800-LAW-NEED (1-800-529-6333). You can also visit us online at www.montlick.com and use our Free Case Evaluation Form or 24-hour Live Online Chat.