Facebook, Myspace & Social Networking Sites: Litigants Beware!
It seems virtually everyone has a “Myspace”, “Facebook” or other Social Media Account these days. Even my wife’s 75 year old grandmother has one. Few people, however, consider how the information on these sites may potentially be twisted or otherwise used by defense attorneys should they have an accident or become embroiled in litigation. While these sites may permit users to employ safeguards or “settings” to keep certain or all information “private”, if you have such an account you should be aware that your privacy settings may not prevent a defense attorney from accessing your data.
For example, a New York court recently granted an order permitting a defendant access to a plaintiff’s Facebook account. In Romano v. Steelcase, the plaintiff claimed to have sustained injuries which significantly limited her activities, and testified as such in a deposition. The defense found photos on her Facebook which seemed to contradict her testimony and sought to obtain the data from her account. The court granted the request, because the publically available photos:
“reveal[ed] that she has an active lifestyle and can travel and apparently engages in many other physical activities inconsistent with her claims in this litigation”
Obviously, we cannot speak for the plaintiff in the Romano case. However, it is reasonable to presume that a person, however badly injured, will remain capable of smiling for a photograph or stepping outside their home on a nice day. And the simple fact that a photo of them doing so is posted on a social site does not mean that they have lied about suffering an injury. However, litigants need to be aware that these types of photos and data sources can be manipulated by aggressive defense attorneys to create this impression. As such, litigants should be very careful about what they post to these sites, should monitor any picture in which they are “tagged” by others, and should strictly enforce their privacy settings.