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How your social media can affect personal injury claims

By Jessica Anne Wood

Social media is an increasingly important part of many people’s daily lives. You share everything from what you are doing and eating, to your thoughts and feelings. With few people knowing how to set their privacy settings correctly, many people fail to realise that their social media posts are not as private as they may think.

Sometimes what you post on social media can come back to haunt you. Justmoney recently looked at how insurance companies can use your social media posts against you when claiming for vehicle accidents; now we look at the impact your posts can have on personal injury claims. Kirstie Haslam, partner at DSC Attorneys which specialises in personal injury law cautions you to think twice before posting on social media if you are in the process of filing a personal injury claim or pending a settlement.

According to Haslam, social media investigations are becoming the new normal, with photographs, comments and videos posted on social media being admissible in a court of law as evidence.

Using your social media content

“Lawyers and insurance companies now have dedicated teams that scour the internet for any information, including comments and images that can either support or contradict a personal injury claim. In fact, any case, be it civil or criminal, may give rise to a social media investigation,” said Haslam.

Furthermore, Haslam pointed out that if you embellish the facts of the case or even simply overstate your mental, physical or emotional injury on social media, this could seriously compromise the success of your claim. “In the worst case scenario, you could even be charged with fraud – a criminal offence that warrants jail time.”

And it is not only your social media posts that are open to investigation, those of your family and friends are also fair game when it comes to these matters.

What about your right to privacy?

The question of privacy comes into play here. Despite putting your photos and other details and comments online, there is some expectation of privacy, enhanced by the fact that most social media platforms offer the option of only allowing approved friends to see your posts. So how does privacy come into play here?

Haslam explained to Justmoney: “The right to privacy is relative when it comes to engaging in personal injury litigation. An example of this is that if you institute a claim for damages as a result of a personal injury, the party you are suing has the right to have you undergo medical examination by a physician(s) of their choosing. Subjecting yourself to such an examination could be regarded as a grave intrusion on your right to personal privacy as far as the integrity of your physical person is concerned, yet it is considered justified as the defendant/other party has a right to assess the validity/credibility of your claim. By analogy this would extend to the context of social media posts and underscores the importance of limiting your engagement on the various platforms and where you do so, rigidly monitoring your privacy settings.”

Haslam elaborated that if information were obtained illicitly or illegally there may be ways to limit orexclude its use. “The point I would emphasise is that the social media user shouldn’t make assumptions regarding the level of privacy and should take an active as opposed to a passive role in this regard.”

The harm social media can cause

To better understand how your social media behaviour can impact your case, Haslam provided the following example:

Michael is claiming compensation for serious injuries sustained in a motor vehicle accident. He claims that his mobility is seriously diminished, affecting his ability to work, and that his face is scarred to such a degree that it has negatively impacted his confidence and overall well-being.

In addition to claiming for medical expenses, Michael wants the court to instruct the defendant’s insurance company to pay compensation for pain and suffering, as well as loss of earnings associated with the injuries sustained in the accident.

According to Haslam, it is likely that at this stage of the case a social media investigation will be carried out. The first step will be to examine Michael’s social media footprint, in other words the social media platforms he has a presence on and uses.

If the investigation find recently posted photographs of Michael within a social environment, such as smiling with a group of friends or entertaining people are home, this could seriously compromise his claim, according to Haslam.

Furthermore, if images or other evidence indicates that Michael is able to perform tasks perceived to require full mobility, this could reduce the compensation he may eventually be awarded or result in the claim being denied entirely.

Use your social media wisely

If you are lodging a personal injury claim or awaiting the settlement decision regarding a claim, Haslam advised that the following steps are followed:

  • Stop posting comments and photographs on social media sites and, if necessary, de-activate your accounts.
  • Never post comments or photos of your accident or injury online.
  • Configure the highest possible privacy settings on your computer; also activate settings to ensure you’re invisible to internet searches.
  • Be wary of new ‘friends’ online; they may be part of an investigating team.
  • Remove all photographs of yourself, with the exception of head shots, from the Internet.
  • Retain all computers, tablets and cell phones, or it may be construed that they were intentionally destroyed to hide evidence.
  • Don’t join websites or chat forums.

 

Further reading:

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