That’s Not Just Data, It’s Evidence

Social media is a 21st-century phenomenon that has completely revolutionized the way people express themselves and communicate with each other. The average American is now on more than one social networking site. From Facebook and Instagram, to Pinterest and Foursquare, it is very likely that you are active on more than one social networking site. Everything from selfies and perfectly lit dinner pictures to random posts articulating random thoughts are used by people in the United States and around the world to express themselves and to present the picture of themselves that they want the world to see. However, on social media, that basic and understandable human tendency to flaunt or to present a perfect appearance to others can get you in serious trouble if you have a personal injury claim pending. If you’ve been injured by another person’s negligence – in a traffic collision or in some other kind of accident – contact a good personal injury lawyer at once, and in the Denver area, speak with an experienced Denver personal injury attorney.

There is no denying that social media is now an integral part of everyday life for millions in the United States and around the world. The several social networking sites – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Foursquare, and others – boast a total of more than 1.7 billion users worldwide. Facebook is by far the most popular social networking site with more than one billion users. About 500 million of those Facebook users log in to the site on any given day. The average Facebook user spends more than 700 minutes per month on Facebook and creates approximately 90 pieces of content each month that includes comments, photographs, videos, “likes,” and links. The statistics for other social media sites, including MySpace, Twitter, Instagram, and Foursquare, are nearly as impressive as Facebook’s own statistics. Like everyone else, most persons injured by negligence and filing personal injury claims are active on Facebook and/or other social media sites.

SOCIAL MEDIA AND PERSONAL INJURY PLAINTIFFS

When you have been injured in an accident by someone else’s negligence, and you file a personal injury claim to recover damages, it’s important to know that the insurance company in your case will probably do everything possible to gather information about you and your injuries. That includes conducting an investigation, analyzing your medical records, and even snooping on you. Prior to the emergence of social media, insurance companies hired investigators with cameras to follow around personal injury claimants. The investigators hoped to catch you exercising at the gym, playing sports with friends, or at least working in your yard. Insurance companies rarely take that path today, thanks to social media.

In the 21st century, snooping has taken on a new form – an investigation of your social media pages. Make no mistake. Instead of following you around with a camera, an insurance investigator today can often get the same results just sitting at a desk. If you file a personal injury claim, the insurance company will go through your social media accounts to unearth information about you that can be used to reduce the value of your claim or to deny your claim altogether. After you have been involved in an accident, it is natural for you to feel compelled to reassure your friends and family that you’re okay, by posting on your Facebook, or Tweeting to your followers. However, don’t simply post that you were involved in an accident and are perfectly fine, and that nobody needs to worry. That could cause an insurance adjuster, who will go through your tweets later, to wonder whether your injuries are really that serious at all. It’s important to understand thoroughly that an insurance company is a business that is in business to make profits – and when they pay the full value of a personal injury claim, those profits are reduced. To this end, an insurance company may go to great lengths to prove that your injury is not as severe as you claim, that your injury did not occur as a result of the accident, or that you are not injured at all and that your claim is fraudulent.

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HERE’S WHAT CAN HAPPEN

 

Most people today know that most employers conduct a “Facebook search” of a job candidate before they make a hiring decision. In the same manner, insurance companies investigate Facebook profiles and other social media accounts to learn about the people filing personal injury claims. Let’s consider a basic example. Tom claims that his legs were injured in a traffic collision with a negligent driver, and he files a personal injury claim. Yet, he’s posted pictures of himself skiing in Vail, and the date on the pictures is after the purported injury took place. Those pictures are certain to come up in the personal injury process, and the insurance company will charge that Tom’s leg injuries are not serious because they did not prevent him from enjoying the slopes in Vail.

If you have been injured by negligence, and you are filing a personal injury claim, you must take the situation seriously. Pictures on Facebook – or anywhere else online – that show you being active when you are supposed to be injured will result in the denial of your claim. Of course, you should always use the strongest privacy settings, but the truth is that everything you post online – and everything you delete – is on file somewhere, and it’s available to lawyers, courts, and law enforcement agencies. In the example above, Tom’s skiing trip pictures on Facebook may mean more than having his personal injury claim denied – it could mean that Tom may face criminal charges for insurance fraud.

Personal injury attorneys across the United States are coming across more and more examples of clients who are jeopardizing their personal injury claims with indiscreet posts on Facebook and other social media sites. It’s not just pictures and videos that can derail your personal injury claim. Comments, including the comments of your Facebook friends and followers, will also be scrutinized, and anything you say or they say can be used – or twisted to be used – against you. Even older content that you’ve posted online will be examined. If you were injured a year or two ago, and you mentioned it online, the insurance company may insist that you weren’t really injured recently, that your claim is based on an old injury unrelated to the recent accident, and that your claim should be denied.

HOW CAN I PROTECT MYSELF?

Being forewarned is essential. Knowing that the insurance company will try to use your social media posts as legal ammunition against your personal injury claim can help you control any damage. For starters, go through your social media posts, including those from previous years, and delete information that you would not want others to see. The insurance company may or may not still be able to find those posts, but if you do not delete them, they will certainly be found. Simply ask yourself, “Would I want the insurance company to see this?” If the answer is yes, don’t post it, and if it’s already posted, delete it.

Minimize your activity on social media, at least until your personal injury case is settled. In fact, most personal injury attorneys would probably advise you to deactivate or even delete all of your social media accounts, at least until you reach a resolution of your personal injury claim. Absolutely avoid describing or discussing your accident or injuries on Facebook or on any other forum. If other people ask you online about the accident and injury, ignore them, or contact them some other way. The last thing you want to do when you are pursuing damages for a personal injury is to tell the world on Facebook that “I’m feeling awesome today.” And even if you do not post social media content while your personal injury claim is pending, be aware that friends might “tag” you in their pictures. Tagging can compromise your privacy, so you’ll need to insist on strict no-tagging rules for your friends.

Adjust your privacy settings. Ensure that all of your posts and content are only seen by your close friends. Remember, however, that nothing online is ever really private or deleted. It’s all recorded somewhere, and every bit of it can potentially be used against you. Another tactic insurance companies use is the “stealth” friend request. An insurance investigator may send you a friend request on Facebook to obtain access to the material you’ve posted. Be extremely careful about accepting new friends while a personal injury claim is pending, or simply refuse to accept new friend requests at least until your claim is resolved.

 

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RETAIN THE LEGAL HELP YOU NEED

Even the online communities and groups that you’ve joined could conceivably be used against you. Don’t join any Facebook groups or communities that could look potentially “suspect” to an insurance investigator – particularly groups focusing on health, diet, exercise, or overall physical fitness. Quite frankly, your best shield against such insurance company tactics is simply to deactivate or close all of your social media accounts until your personal injury claim is settled. That ends – in most cases – any possibility that an insurance company or an opposing attorney will be able to access material that can be used to incriminate you.

Continue being cautious online for several weeks after the settlement. Some personal injury settlements include confidentiality provisions that forbid plaintiffs in personal injury cases from discussing or disclosing amounts or any other details of a settlement. Don’t speak with anyone except your attorney about your personal injury case. Social media offers abundant benefits, but when you file a personal injury claim, the risk of being active on social media far outweighs the benefits. If you have been injured by another person’s negligence, you are entitled to complete compensation for your medical expenses and all other losses related to your injury, but you’ll need the legal advice and services of a good personal injury lawyer, and in the Denver area, you should contact an experienced Denver personal injury attorney immediately after obtaining medical treatment for any negligence-related injury.

 

By: Dallas Norton

Dallas Norton, the founding partner of Norton & Bowers, has practiced law with a focus on personal injury since 1992. Mr. Norton has extensive Colorado roots including grade school in Arvada and high school in Denver. He earned his J.D. from Brigham Young University Law School in 1991. When working on behalf of clients, Mr. Norton draws upon his extensive background in psychology and human resources.