Nearly everyone uses social media these days. People view it as a way to keep up on current events, stay connected with those closest to them, share updates on what is going on in their lives, and share their thoughts and opinions. But many of us fail to consider the consequences of what we say in these forums.
Most of the time, being active on social media will not cause problems in your life, as long as you are not being too provocative or controversial, in which case you might run into problems with your current employer or a company you are trying to get hired by.
Social media activity can also become very problematic if you are involved in a legal proceeding. For example, you get into a car accident, and the first thing you do is post a picture of the wreckage and make some comments about the accident. You describe how it happened – e.g., how the other driver swerved into your lane and how you wish you would have noticed them sooner and maybe the accident could have been avoided.
You talk about how you are feeling after the accident. You got a few bumps and bruises and you’re limping a little bit, but you have an optimistic outlook and you reassure your family and friends that everything is going to be okay.
At first glance, all of this might seem totally fine and normal. But if you examine this scenario a little closer, you will find that a post like this could seriously jeopardize any legal claim you might make for damages.
First of all, comments about how the accident happened are never a good idea, because they could be twisted around and used by the other side to try to pin some of the blame for the accident on you. You may be one of those people who is naturally apologetic but implying that you might share even some of the fault for an accident could be very costly.
This is especially true in a state like Alabama, where they apply the “contributory negligence” legal doctrine to personal injury cases. Under contributory negligence, if an injured party is found to have “contributed” in any way to the underlying accident (even 1%), they can be barred from recovering damages.
Another problem with a post like the one described in this scenario is if you comment on your physical condition. Yes, you want people close to you to know that you will be okay, but you may not always know the full extent of your injuries immediately after an accident. The adrenaline rush you experience after a traumatic event like a vehicle crash can sometimes mask the pain initially, then you might feel it coming on after a few hours or even after a day or two.
So, if you comment on your medical condition on your social media page before you know exactly what it is, this could also be used against you to argue that you are exaggerating your injuries. Along these same lines, any posts that show you out to eat, on vacation, or otherwise enjoying life could be used to argue that the accident did not really cause any emotional trauma or diminished quality of life like you are claiming.
What If I have Strict Privacy Settings?
You might be thinking that none of what is mentioned above applies to you because you have the strongest privacy settings and the other side will never be able to see your social media posts. Don’t count on it! Insurance companies are very tech savvy, and they expend a lot of resources investigating claimants and trying to come up with information that can be used to diminish the value of their claim.
Insurance investigators have ways of uncovering your social media posts that you may not have thought of. For example, they could create familiar profiles and become friends with your friends in order to gain access to see your posts. And even if this or something similar does not happen, all electronic activity is discoverable in a legal case, and it can be subpoenaed by the other side if it comes to that.
The bottom line is, if you are involved in any type of legal proceeding, whether it is a personal injury claim, defending a DUI arrest, getting a divorce, or whatever else, always assume that anything you do electronically will be seen by the opposing side. And act accordingly.
How Should I Handle Social Media if I am Involved in a Legal Proceeding?
Ideally, we recommend suspending all social media activity while your legal case is ongoing. By suspending your accounts, you will not accidentally post something that could hurt you – or get tagged in someone else’s photo. When your case is over, you can reactivate your social media accounts and resume life as normal.
If you absolutely must remain on social media, keep your activity to a bare minimum. Do not post any photos or status updates or comment on anyone else’s posts. Also, adjust your settings to make sure others cannot tag you in their photos without your approval. Be careful what you say in private conversations, because these can be subpoenaed as well.
Really the only good way to use social media when you have a legal case going on is to browse, read news, and see what other people are posting. Always refrain from posting anything yourself.
Contact a Seasoned Birmingham, AL Attorney
If you have a personal injury or criminal matter and you are in the Birmingham area, the Zach Peagler Law Firm is here to help. Call our office today at (205) 871-9990 or message us online to schedule a complementary consultation with our experienced attorney.