More often than you might think, I’ve seen someone do serious damage to their legal case thanks to Facebook, Twitter, or other online posts. Many people think of their social media lives as a vital part of their real lives. They post like they always have, without thinking about the harm they do to their legal case. Problems are most common in injury cases and in family law cases. Here’s what to watch out for.
Social media seems to encourage many people to boast or exaggerate. This can harm people with legitimate personal injury claims. Consider what happens if you post a photo that makes it look like you aren’t hurt as badly as your case claims. Maybe you post a photo that looks like you are playing with your church softball team. You may have just posed for one still photo at home plate because your leg injury is too painful to play yet. When the insurance company defending the claim puts the photo into evidence, how will the jurors know the truth? As another example, suppose you upload your photo with friends sitting on a boat, and you write, “having a great time – water skiing, wings, and good friends.” With your back injury, you may be the only one not water skiing, but the insurance company will use the post to argue that’s exactly what you were doing.
Social media posts and even passwords are fair game in discovery in court cases. If you’ve posted it or your friends have commented on it, the insurance company can likely find out about it.
Online posts can also hurt your separation and divorce case. Many a cheating spouse has accidentally proven their own affair this way. Some people can’t resist posting photos taken with their new love interest. Although your accounts may be set as private, it is not uncommon for one of your Facebook friends to share your posts with your ex. If you aren’t yet separated, a web page or email left open on a home computer can reveal an affair.
Custody cases can also be complicated by social media. Even if you aren’t really a party animal, will your exaggerated posts make it look like you are given to alcohol, drugs, or staying out all night?
The best advice if you are involved in a legal case, is simply not to post to social media sites at all, and never to put photos or videos online until your case is over. As the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If you find that impossible, be very careful. Evaluate everything you write and every photo you upload as if the person or company on the other side of your case sees it and draws the worst possible conclusion. If that worst conclusion is still all right, then you may be safe. Also, don’t post or reply when you are angry, hurried, or tired. You may not be as careful then as you would under better circumstances. If you are involved in a case, talk to your attorney about protecting your case from social media disaster.
Kim K. Steffan is an attorney with Steffan & Associates, P.C. in Hillsborough, NC. She can be reached at 919-732-7300 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was last updated in January 2020.