A good rule of thumb is to stay off of social media when going through a personal injury case. Attorneys Robert Hartigan and Robert Mazow of Mazow McCullough law firm talk about how detrimental social media could be to a case. Listen or read more to find out why.
John Maher: Hi, I’m John Maher and I’m here with Robert Hartigan and Robert Mazow of the law firm of Mazow McCullough, a personal injury law firm with offices in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Today we’re talking about the dangers of social media in personal injury cases. Robert and Robert, welcome.
Robert & Robert: Thanks, John.
John: So, how does social media play a role in personal injury cases?
Hartigan: In 2019, social media . . . it actually, it can play a big role in the personal injury case. We’ve seen situations where a client that’s been in a car accident or has had a slip and fall injury, shortly after that will go home and then post about it, and post photographs and talk about their injuries and what happened, and that can really come back to have really disastrous effects on their case.
John: So just like, if you started talking to the opposing attorneys, or you started talking to insurance companies, or things like that, just the act of posting something on social media sites, like Facebook, could get you in trouble because here you’re getting information out into public about what happened in your accident.
Hartigan: Absolutely. So, what the client is basically doing is creating a record, sometimes even a transcript if they’re having conversations between their friends on Facebook or Twitter, and the insurance companies are certainly looking at that person’s Facebook profile and their page or their Tweets or Instagram, and they can use that to their advantage in defending their case, and you know, the allegations brought by the plaintiff or the client.
Impact of Social Media on a Case
John: Okay. Have you seen some specific cases at your firm where social media has played a role in the case?
Mazow: Unfortunately we have, despite the fact that we warn clients to stay out of the social media. I’ll give you an example of how one has had a detrimental effect on a case.
We had a client who was in a bad car crash. She was hurt very badly and she testified at her deposition that she couldn’t do certain things because she had balance issues. And the next thing that happened is the defense attorney got access to her Facebook page and there she is posting herself balancing on, it happened to be a cannon or something on vacation, and it really had a bad effect. The case ended up resolving, and if that had gone to trial and a jury saw that, I think the client would have been in big trouble.
John: Okay. Any other cases like that that you’ve seen?
Hartigan: So, personally, not at this firm, but a few years back when I was a paralegal, I saw a case where a client had been in a car accident and they claimed they had severe back issues, and the insurance company looked at that person’s Facebook profile after the settlement demand was submitted to the insurance company, and sure enough there was a photograph of the client doing some yard work, some landscaping, outside, right after his incident.
Hartigan: And that’s had a really disastrous effect on his case.
Mazow: And there’s always an innocent explanation but it’s best to just not . . . if you’re hurt in a car accident, it’s best not to post, not to Tweet, not to text. Keep your conversations private, keep them between yourself and your attorney because the very first thing, and I know this for a fact, the very first thing that insurance companies are doing is they’re Googling you and they’re finding out and people are, you know, they’re friending certain people on Facebook or Instagram or other social media in it, it could be a disaster.
John: So, talk a little bit more about that, about how insurance companies or maybe the attorney could be using social media to help their case against your clients.
Mazow: There was a case we had a few years ago, it was a very serious wrongful death car accident, and unfortunately the child of our clients died in a bad car crash. His Facebook page was a complete diary of every bad thing you don’t want your child to be doing. Public. I’m talking about photographs of inappropriate behavior, alcohol, what appeared to be potentially drugs, and the defense counsel got access to all of that, and it was embarrassing and it was challenging, and again, had that case gone to trial and had that been used to show what kind of a person . . . you know, they would make the argument that, “This was a bad person.”
Mazow: Again, the person wasn’t a bad person, and they were just posting things that didn’t look right. So, the point is, is that don’t post anything that’s going to look inappropriate, but certainly don’t post anything that’s related to your car accident or your personal injury claim.
Advice on Social Media Usage
John: Okay. What are some of the things that you’re doing to combat social media use with your clients? Can you go beyond just asking them, “Hey, please don’t post things onto social media.”
Hartigan: We’ve actually started having clients sign a form acknowledging that they’re not going to post on social media about their case, and I think what that does is it shows them how serious this issue is with insurance companies and defense lawyers looking into their social media profiles, and that it’s not something to be ignored and it’s not a joke. So, them actually having to sign something and acknowledging that they’re not going to do it really drives that point home.
John: Any other final thoughts in terms of social media and the dangers that it poses with personal injury cases?
Hartigan: I would say it’s just . . . we’re seeing it more often now in litigation where defense attorneys and opposing counsel, they’re trying to get access to social media accounts. And there are some other legalities as far as federal law that comes into play. If you were to send a subpoena to Facebook, how they respond, but generally speaking, one of the tactics is they’ll send a discovery request to us asking for our client to download their information to give to them.
There’s some objections that we throw at them, but it’s becoming more of an issue than ever before.
John: All right. That’s really great information, Robert and Robert. Thank you very much for speaking with me today.
Mazow: Thank you, John.
Hartigan: Thank you.
John: And for more information on personal injury cases, visit the firm’s website at helpinginjured.com or call 855-693-9084.