To say that social media has changed the way we live is an understatement. From the smallest sentiments and silly memes to breaking news, noble causes, natural disasters, and everything in between, people across the world have found new and novel ways to communicate, collaborate, and unite – with little more than the click of a few buttons.
Social media’s transformative impact on how people interact is certainly amazing, and there are many examples of the power of social platforms. That includes officials communicating directly with citizens and communities, open access to public health or safety information, and more opportunities to establish meaningful connections with others, to name a few.
For all there is that’s “good” about social media, there is, naturally, a potential for it to be used in not-so-spectacular ways. Ideals and arguments aside, numerous people, professionals, and corporations have confronted problems arising from online platforms – leaving at least one statement with which we can all agree:
As with many things in life, social media has the power to help, and to harm.
Unfortunately, that is a possibility even in personal injury cases.
How Social Media Can Impact a Personal Injury Case
While personal injury cases are legal proceedings in which victims harmed by the negligence of others can seek justice and compensation from at-fault parties, they are also “adversarial” in nature.
As lawyers, we engage in the adversarial art of “argument,” either on behalf of injured plaintiffs (as we at The Perecman Firm, P.L.L.C. do), or defendants (which, in many cases we handle, are often representatives of corporations and insurance companies) before an impartial party (a judge or jury).
A foundation to our judicial system, the adversarial process by which cases are adjudicated can – just like social media – have its good and bad. When the system works well, both sides are represented by advocates who present their parties’ side of the story before a neutral party. At times when it does not work well, however, zealous arguments can alter the meaning of what was said or done.
Social media posts are a good example of this. Here are a few reasons why they pose risks to personal injury plaintiffs:
- Risks of Misinterpretation: Though they can be innocuous enough, social media posts – just like verbal statements – can be misconstrued, misinterpreted, and used as leverage to support an argument or assumption that isn’t true. In auto accident cases, for example, it is not uncommon for statements made by victims at a crash scene, where there can be a lot going on, to be interpreted in ways the speaker did not intend. A simple “sorry” or apology from one driver, even if it’s just a natural response, could be used to support arguments that they are at fault for causing the wreck, even if it’s not the case. The same is true for many other types of posts.
- Inferences About Injuries: Social media platforms have become popular places for people to share photos of themselves and their loved ones. Although injuries can certainly affect how frequently some may post, especially during difficult recoveries, there’s no right or wrong way to share your story; some people may choose to share photos of their recovery, and provide hope to others in similar situations. What can be concerning with photos on public social media pages, though, is that they can be viewed by opposing parties and, in worst case scenarios, be used to support inaccurate arguments. Posting a photo of a golf swing to celebrate being able to hit a golf ball again, even if it was painful or poorly shot due to your injuries, may seem like a great way to share progress with friends and family to you, but it could be seen as evidence by parties who may argue you’re not really injured, even if that isn’t the case.
- Assumptions From Locations & Geo-Tagging: Many social media platforms allow users to “check in,” or tag themselves or their photos at various locations. While simply being in a certain place or area means nothing about what you were actually doing, it certainly can be interpreted negatively, and possibly used as evidence to combat a claim.
- Case Details & Conflicting Statements: Many are willing to openly express themselves and their opinions on social media, whether through written posts or recorded videos. When it comes to posting about a pending personal injury case, going into too much detail could open the door to statements that, while made in earnest, may conflict with other facts or statements in the case. This isn’t unusual; our memories fade over time and recollecting specifics can become difficult – which is why we tell our clients to write down the details of their accidents as soon as possible, while details are still fresh in their minds. Still, a simple inability to remember every detail may be enough to provide opposing parties with evidence that may be used against you, even if it’s not true or what you intended, or comes from a witness who has only part of the story. Additionally, some cases may be subject to confidentiality agreements where sharing too much, even if completely true, can come with consequences.
A Simple Assessment of Risks. A Sensible Approach to Sharing.
None of these examples are to say that personal injury victims need to cloister themselves and shun the social media platforms they previously used and enjoyed, or that defendants are overzealous in lurking Instagram or Facebook feeds to accumulate evidence they can intentionally contort to fit their arguments. As we’ve mentioned – many things in life have both their good and bad.
If there is any simple message this is meant to convey, it is that there can be risks to using social media sites, just as there are risks to making seemingly inconsequential statements like “sorry” at the scene of a crash, or speaking with an insurance adjuster who calls shortly after an accident. Social media, like the aforementioned, can be admitted into evidence and presented in Court.
Though criminal legal proceedings use different rules and procedures, they help serve as an example of the need to protect one’s own rights and interests. Exercising one’s 5th Amendment right to remain silent, for instance, does not mean a person is guilty or has something to hide. It very often simply means the person is aware of risks associated with speaking – which are quite real, given that misinterpreted statements are a leading contributing cause of wrongful convictions – and that they chose to err on the side of caution by not providing “the other side” with anything that could possibly be used against them. It’s a simple assessment of risks.
As any lawyer will tell you, speaking (or in some cases posting) isn’t as simple or harmless as it sounds when the law is involved, even if what you’re saying or posting is true or reasonably inconsequential. It is merely something that comes with risks. In most cases, those risks aren’t always significant. In others, they can be. What’s important is using your judgment when sharing on social media, speaking with your attorney about issues specific to your case, and focusing on your recovery.
At The Perecman Firm, P.L.L.C., we’re just as committed to answering our clients’ questions and giving them the personal attention they deserve as we are to investigating, strategizing, and litigating complex claims and cases. If you have questions about a potential injury case and your rights anywhere in New York City or New York state, contact us.