Personal injury claims and Facebook, Myspace, Twitter and Social Networking

If you weren’t already convinced, the popularity and success of academy award nominated movie The Social Network should have persuaded you that social networking web sites are now deeply ingrained in the fabric of American life. Facebook boasts more than 500 million users world wide: when you consider the world population is estimated at 6,899,200,000 that means about 1 in 14 people in the world have a Facebook account! I think most people would agree that Facebook is the 500lb gorilla of social networking sites, but of course there are others including Myspace and Twitter.

Social networking sites such as Facebook can be a valuable source of information in a personal injury claim, be it a car accident, work injury, slip-and-fall or some other type of injury.  This information can either help the injured person’s case or hurt it. Likewise the Facebook or Myspace page of the person who caused the injury (in a lawsuit, the Defendant) can either help or hurt their defense of the injury claim.

Here is a real life example from an automobile accident lawsuit that Smith & Hassler personal injury attorneys Daragh Carter and Roger Sullivan took to trial in Harris County District Court in 2010. We represented a construction worker whose van was wrecked in an intersection collision with a 19-year old girl who ran a red light. The police report faulted the girl and she got a ticket for running the red light. She was insured with the notorious Allstate, who offered a couple of thousand dollars LESS than our client’s medical bills. When we filed the lawsuit, the 19-year old’s attorneys answered the lawsuit and denied she was at fault for the collision, saying it was our client who was at fault. In her deposition, which is testimony under oath, the 19-year old claimed she had the green light and said she told the police officer the same thing; she also had told us she did not have pictures of either of the wrecked vehicles, which is important evidence in the case…she denied it right up until she was shown her Myspace pages with a picture of her badly wrecked car and a caption she wrote indicating she was at fault. The Myspace pages were admitted into evidence at trial and the jury found for our client, actually awarding him more for pain and suffering than the attorneys suggested.

Of course, the door swings both ways. Injured people can seriously hurt their cases with what they put on their Facebook page, e.g. references to compensation, discussion of the facts of the accident or photographs of them appearing to do things (e.g. water skiing) that are inconsistent with their injuries.

Insurance adjusters weren’t born yesterday. It used to be that they would only research the Facebook pages of younger people making injury claims, but now that social networking sites are so widely used by all age groups, insurance adjusters research almost everyone. Smith & Hassler strongly recommends that you keep your Facebook page set to private where only people you have approved can view the contents of your pages. Smith & Hassler also suggests you be wary of accepting friend request from people you don’t know well, particularly in the weeks and months after a collision: they could be using a dummy account because they want to view your pages.

If you want a rule of thumb, Houston personal injury lawyers Smith & Hassler recommend you think about it this way: take a look at what the general public can learn about you from what can publicly be seen on your Facebook, Myspace or Twitter account. Then imagine it blown up to an 8 foot tall image on a projector screen at the courthouse because your injury claim couldn’t be settled, a lawsuit was filed and the case went to trial. If you think you don’t look good then a jury will think the same.

Smith & Hassler has been representing and advising people in Houston and throughout Texas for more than 20 years. If you have been injured due to another’s negligence and want advice on how to recovery money damages for your injuries and losses, call or email Smith & Hassler today and arrange a free consultation as soon as possible.