If you have hired a personal injury lawyer to protect your interests in a claim for injuries and damages involving a car, motorcycle, truck or semi tractor-trailer accident, your attorney will likely ask you to refrain from posting photos or messages of any kind to social networking sites, no matter how harmless or irrelevant your posts may seem to your case. Insurance company defendants can infer a great deal of information — and misinformation —from ‘harmless’ photographs that are taken out of the context of your daily life.
The legal term “discovery” means a formal pre-trial investigation. Attorneys for claimants and defendants use the discovery approach to build their claim or make their defense. Vehicles used by attorneys for the discovery process may include, but are not limited to, Interrogatories, Request for Admissions and Request for Production of Documents. Despite privacy concerns, several state and federal courts have ruled that pictures, postings and messages transmitted via social media, i.e. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, blogs, and many other online networking sites, may be compelled in the discovery process. You may be asked to turn over personal or professional profiles (both private and public), posts and images that you or your “friends” have posted online, even those postings made prior to your accident if defense can make the case that previous posts could be relevant to the case at hand.
Penalties for Spoliation of Evidence
I should caution you about ‘cleaning up’ or deactivating your social networking sites. In a wrongful death case in Virginia, a plaintiff received monetary sanctions from the Court in the amount of $180,000 for “spoliation” or tampering with the evidence by removing 16 photos from his Facebook account. Although the jury ultimately found on behalf of the Plaintiff, his monetary award was greatly reduced by that amount and his attorney was sanctioned $522,000 for instructing his client to destroy his page.
Lawyers practicing in the state of Indiana must abide by the Indiana Rule of Professional Conduct. Section 3.4 of the rules states:
“a lawyer shall not unlawfully obstruct another party’s access to evidence or unlawfully alter, destroy or conceal a document or other material having potential evidentiary value. A lawyer shall not counsel or assist another person to do any such act.”
Sound Rules for Social Media Posts
An experienced personal injury or wrongful death lawyer may ask you to refrain from further online posting but should never ask you to hide, clean-up or remove posts, messages or photos which you or someone you know has already posted. The following are a few good common sense rules to abide by if you are involved in a personal injury claim:
- Do not talk about your case to anyone except your attorney;
- Do not accept any “friend” requests from people you don’t personally know;
- Do not post any photos of yourself online; and
- Do not hide, remove or in any way destroy any online postings that were made by or about you until your case has been disposed.
Lawyers experienced in accident with injury cases
The law firm of Ward & Ward has over eighty-five years of legal experience with personal injury and wrongful death claims. Our firm receives no legal fees or expenses unless we collect damages on your behalf. Call Charlie Ward today for a free evaluation of your claim.
By Charlie Ward