Even with the strictest privacy settings in place, social media is a valuable target for defense attorneys in a personal injury lawsuit. Small mistakes using social media can cost victims thousands of dollars in compensation.
There are four ways that social media can influence the outcome of a case handled by a Chicago personal injury attorney.
Extent Of Injuries
Liability in some cases is clear-cut, and in those instances, the defense focuses on the extent of the injuries rather than the cause. Many injury claims are subjective, especially when the damage is to the back or the neck, areas where muscle is more likely to become damaged than bone, or when the victim claims pain levels that are unmanageable without medication. The court and the jury have only the word of the victim and an analysis of the injury from the doctors to base their decision.
Defense attorneys use social media to show the extent of the injury is much less than the victim claims. Pictures of a victim holding a child, participating in sports, or partying with friends after the accident may all be indications the injuries are not as serious as the victim wants people to believe. The pictures carry significant weight in the courtroom, because they offer a visual representation of the extent of the injuries, unlike the subjective statements from the victim.
Another common tactic defense attorneys use is to claim the injury was a pre-existing condition, and not the result of the accident. The courts may award money for injuries that were exacerbated by an accident, but will not pay damages for injuries that are unrelated.
The defense will go through past social media posts, both pictures and text, to find any evidence of a pre-existing injury. Pictures of a victim wearing a neck brace or complaints about a sore back a week before the accident could be enough for the court to deny the victim’s claims, or seriously limit the medical coverage or duration of compensation. Evidence of a previous injury does not automatically mean a victim cannot win compensation, but it does decrease the odds.
After an accident, it is a natural inclination to tell other people what happened. Unfortunately, victims are prone to share too much about the accident and open themselves to an increase in liability under Illinois’ modified comparative negligence laws. A change in liability of just a few percentage points can cost victims thousands of dollars.
The defense can use statements the victim made in posts to show that the victim contributed to their injuries through direct action or negligence. Examples of damaging statements include:
- “I only took my eyes off the road for a split second…”
- “Why do accidents always happen when I’ve been smoking…”
- “Stupid dog hit my steering wheel, and now I’m in a wreck…”
A Chicago personal injury attorney typically informs clients not to make any public statements about their injury, so the defense cannot use the victim’s words to shift any portion of liability.
Some victims think the best way to protect themselves from the prying eyes of defense attorneys is to delete their accounts for the duration of the trial. While this is a natural desire, the court will be very displeased with the action. Any pre-trial scrubbing should be done only in consultation with a Chicago personal injury attorney.
Before filing a lawsuit, a Chicago personal injury attorney may suggest actions, such as:
- Deactivating old accounts–Myspace accounts and out of date Facebook or online dating profiles should be deactivated or removed completely to avoid the release of embarrassing information.
- Increase privacy settings–For the duration of the trial, all publicly accessible accounts should have privacy increased to “friends only”.
- Stop accepting friend requests–Defense attorneys may try to work around privacy settings by posing as a friend or acquaintance. Victims who add someone they do not know well can expose themselves unexpectedly.
- Remove tags–Victims cannot control what others post about them, but removing tags and links to potentially embarrassing posts or pictures will make it more difficult for the defense to use the posts in court.
The federal courts ruled that social media and electronic evidence are discoverable during a personal injury lawsuit, because the information shines a light on the victim’s character and condition. Deleting social media accounts is similar to destroying other evidence, and victims may find themselves paying hefty fees.
Defense attorneys will use any tool at their disposal to protect the reputation and assets of their clients. Social media is an increasingly common way for defense attorneys to attack the character and condition of victims in personal injury cases. Victims must be careful about what they post online, and what others post about them, especially before a consultation with a Chicago personal injury attorney.