For most adults living in Austin and surrounding areas, using social media is a routine part of life. They may check or post to their Facebook, Twitter or other social media platforms many times throughout the course of a day.
Social media is a wonderful way to get news, stay up-to-date with friends and family members and share information with others about what you are doing.
However, if you have been involved in a car accident, and you are pursuing a claim for damages, you should be careful about how you use social media. How you manage your social media accounts could potentially harm your claim.
How Can Social Media Damage Your Personal Injury Claim?
No law prevents an insurance adjuster or insurance defense attorney from looking into your online activity, including social media, and using that information against you.
In fact, as long as social media evidence is obtained legally - for instance, the information is available for public viewing - then that evidence can be used against you in the exact same manner as accident scene photos, medical reports and other types of evidence.
Here is a look at some ways that your social media activity can negatively affect your personal injury claim:
Updates on your health status
You may tell your social media followers that you have been involved in a car accident but reassure them that you are "doing OK."
After you have been in a crash, it is normal to tell those who are closest to you about what happened to you. You may share that you sustained an injury but, all things considered, you are alright and recovering.
However, by letting others know that you are "OK" or "recovering well," you are giving an insurance company the ability to take your words out of context.
For instance, the insurer may argue that you are not seriously injured, have not suffered any long-term impairment and certainly are not suffering any severe physical or emotional harm.
Many weeks or months after your car accident, you may check in or post a location marker from a park, swimming pool, concert or sporting event. If you are a regular social media user, you may not even think twice about doing this.
However, if you have filed a claim that cites medical expenses, lost income and pain and suffering, the insurance company may use this information to, again, undermine your claim.
The insurer may argue that, since you can go out to such a location, your injuries must be either non-existent or exaggerated.
You may post a photo that seems harmless. For example, you may post of picture of yourself and your child, with your child in your arms and both of you showing big smiles on your faces.
While it may seem preposterous to you that such an innocent photo could be used to minimize or deny your claim for car accident-related damages, you would be surprised at how an insurance company could use such a picture.
For instance, the insurance company may assert that you have exaggerated the claim that you can no longer lift heavy objects and work, considering that you are holding a child in the photo. Or, the insurer may claim that you are not experiencing emotional anguish, considering how happy you appear to be in the photo.
This issue can be tricky. It depends on the terms of the settlement.
In some cases, a settlement may be confidential. In other cases, the settlement may be specific about with whom you can share the news of your settlement or what details can be disclosed to the public. Some settlements have no restrictions. They are completely transparent. Others essentially prohibit you from discussing anything.
It is important to consult with your lawyer about what settlement details you would like to share with others on social media. Your concerns about transparency may be an issue as you enter into settlement negotiations, or they may become an issue after a settlement has been reached.
If you violate the terms of a settlement agreement through your social media use, it could lead to the agreement becoming voided and possibly initiate a new round of litigation.
Best Social Media Practices after an Austin Auto Accident
As John G. Browning writes for the Dallas Bar Association, Texas has not addressed the issue of whether a personal injuryclaimant can "clean up" his or her Facebook account while litigation is pending.
This is a serious issue. While you may wish to limit the "mining" of your social media accounts by insurance companies, you also have to be careful about doing anything that could be viewed as destruction or "spoliation" of evidence.
For instance, as Browning points out, a Virginia lawyer ended up getting sanctioned for $722,000 and lost his law license for five years after he instructed a paralegal to ask a client in a wrongful death case to "clean up" her deceased husband's Facebook page.
If you are pursuing a car accident claim, the best practice would be to avoid deleting any old posts, photos, tweets or other social media activity from your past and to, instead, focus on what you need to do as you move forward.
One step you can take is to switch your social media account settings to private rather than public. Additionally, if someone one seeks to "friend" you or otherwise join your social media network, and you do not know the person, you should decline the request. It could be an insurance company representative who is seeking a way to get information.
Because of the risk you face of having your words and photos taken out of context by the insurance company, you should strongly consider simply staying away from social media until your case is resolved.
However, if you cannot resist the urge, just make sure to never discuss your accident or your case on social media and, otherwise, to be careful about what you post.
If you have been in a car crash in Austin, the attorneys of Byrd Davis Alden & Henrichson, LLP, can review your claim in a free and confidential consultation. We can answer any questions you may have about your legal rights, your options and other matters such as social media use. Call or reach us online today.