By Francis M. Smith
In today's world, the internet has worked its way thoroughly into almost every aspect of our lives – including our social lives. People use social media to keep up with important events in the lives of friends and family, to share their daily thoughts and feelings, and to seek support in times of hardship. In the aftermath of an accident resulting in a serious injury, many people instinctively reach for their smart phone to update their Facebook or Twitter accounts, either to reassure loved ones or to connect with friends while their injuries prevent them from socializing. Unfortunately, following this impulse can be dangerous if you're seeking compensation for your injuries through a personal injury claim or lawsuit.
Insurance companies earn their profits by taking in more money in premiums than they pay out in claims. To that end, they employ insurance adjusters whose job is to find justifications to avoid, whenever they can, paying injury claims like yours. One of the first things an adjuster will do to accomplish that task is to look at your social media profiles. (Some insurance companies hire a service to troll the internet to find anything posted by you or about you, both before and after your injury.) Did you reassure your Facebook friends that “I'm okay” after your accident? Your injuries mustn't have been that serious. Were you tagged in a photo in which you were smiling or laughing? You must not be in severe pain. These interpretations may not be accurate, but they can be very persuasive to a jury.
The safest thing to do with respect to social media when you're involved in an accident case is to avoid posting entirely. If you want to let loved ones know how you're doing, phone calls or email may be less efficient, but they're also less exploitable by an insurance industry. If you can't stay off social media for the duration of your accident case, set your account to “friends only” or a similar security setting. Set your privacy settings to insure that people you don't know can listen in on what you're saying or look at the photos you post. Don't accept any friend or follow requests from your insurance adjuster – your interactions with this person are strictly professional, and they have no business trying to connect with you on your personal social accounts. Even if they claim to be concerned about your recovery or interested in establishing a more friendly working relationship, don't fall for it. Similarly, don't accept any friend requests from strangers during this time; insurance adjusters (and some law firms representing defendants) are not above creating fake profiles in the hope of gaining access to your friends-locked posts.
We try to make ourselves look our best in photos. This doesn't become any less true when you've been injured in a serious accident – you don't necessarily want the pain you're suffering now to be part of your happy memories in the future. To that end, you might hide a cane or crutches out-of-frame, cover a cast with a jacket or blanket, and put on a cheery smile despite your insistent aches or shooting pains. However, if an insurance adjuster prowling your Facebook page for “incriminating evidence” finds these images, all he sees is the happy veneer you've used to cover your injuries. He may conclude (or try to convince a jury during your accident case) that your injuries aren't causing you much pain and aren't impeding your everyday activities.
Even photos and events from before you were injured can be used against you, if an insurance adjuster neglects to notice when these events took place, or purposely misleads others to believe they took place after your injury. If you use the time you're incapacitated by your injuries to go through your photos and post them to Facebook, the insurance adjuster might see pictures from last summer's rock climbing trip and interpret them as a recent event. The next thing you know, your claim is denied. This can be a danger with photos posted by friends, as well. Keep an eye on friends' pictures that you're tagged in during your accident case.
In particular, it's important to keep any discussion of your accident case itself off of social media accounts. Avoid talking about the details of your accident, your medical appointments and diagnoses, or discussions with your attorney. In particular, you should refrain from talking about any aspect of the process of your insurance claim itself. Don't discuss the advice or strategies your attorney has shared with you (other than perhaps a statement that you will not be on social media much for a while); don't rant or complain about the insurance adjuster or the insurance company you're pursuing your accident case against; don't boast about the amount of your settlement, even after your accident case is resolved. And remember one critical fact: the internet never forgets. Even if you delete a post or a tweet, there is a risk that your insurance adjuster has already taken a screen-shot image of your words or photos to use against you later. The safest course is keeping your thoughts offline, and ask friends and family to do likewise.
If you or a loved one have been injured in a serious accident, please contact me or call me at 908-233-5800 for a free consultation.