It’s long been established that your social media accounts are subject to analysis by courts – and that’s applicable to both criminal cases as well as personal injury and other civil claims.
That means that the persons or organizations against whom you have filed a personal injury lawsuit have the right to petition the court for your personal tweets, posts, shares, likes, photos, videos and other relevant evidence.
However, courts have also found there must be limits. One such case was decided recently in the Florida Court of Appeal Second Circuit. The case, Root v. Balfour Beatty Construction LLC, stems from a hit-and-run pedestrian accident in front of a construction zone involving a boy who at the time was just 3-years-old.
According to documents filed in the case, the child was in the care of his aunt, who at the time was 17-years-old. The boy was being pulled in a wagon alongside a road in a suburban neighborhood. As the two passed a construction zone, the boy jumped out of the wagon and darted in front of a truck. The truck driver did not stop. The boy was dragged for some time before coming to rest at the side of the road. The truck driver continued on.
The boy’s injuries were grave. For a time, it was unknown if he would survive. Eventually, he did recover, though not fully. He suffers permanent injury, including brain damage.
The driver of the truck was arrested and was later sentenced to time behind bars.
The boy’s mother pursued a personal injury claim against the city, the construction company and the subcontractors responsible for maintenance of the job site where the incident occurred. Her lawsuit, filed on behalf of her son, alleges that these entities failed to take proper care in ensuring the site would be safe for passers-by.
In countering these claims, the defendants accuse the mother of negligent entrustment, as well as failure to supervise.
As part of this defense, they requested essentially all of her Facebook activity, to include virtually all posts, videos, likes, comments, shares, photos and more that not only pertained to discussions regarding the lawsuit, but also to most of her personal relationships, her mental health (including “stress complaints”) and her alleged use of alcohol and other substances.
While parties in court cases have been obtaining this information pretty much ever since social media has existed, the courts have also recognized that there must be defined privacy limits.
Here, the court noted that in order to overcome these privacy concerns, the defense would have to show that the information was relevant to the case and that it was going to somehow produce evidence that would be admissible in court. These criteria were not met, so the motion was denied.
Social media can in some personal injury cases work to a plaintiff’s advantage. For example, a hit-and-run driver may be caught too late for alcohol testing to be conducted. But perhaps he or she posted videos or status updates referencing alcohol consumption hours before the incident in question.
So access to this kind of information isn’t all bad.
For our purposes, though, we generally advise clients to limit their postings, particularly as they relate to the case at hand.
The Law Offices of Nicholas Rose, PLLC offers free consultations in Manhattan. Call 1-877-313-7673.
Give me everything you’ve posted about your family on Facebook, Feb. 6, 2014, By Eugene Volokh, The Washington Post
More Blog Entries:
Child Injuries & Risk of Side-Impact Collisions, Feb. 10, 2014, Manhattan Pedestrian Injury Blog