Social media is a relatively new phenomenon, and it sure doesn't look like it's going anywhere anytime soon. It's highly useful, extremely entertaining, and altogether addictive, and for most of us it makes our lives better overall. Under the wrong set of circumstances, however, your Facebook, Twitter, or Insta account could absolutely ruin everything.
Look at it this way. If you're like the average person, you update your social media account(s) on a fairly regular basis, providing the entire universe with everything from brunch selfies to weekly updates on your cat's ongoing battle with halitosis. This is true even if there is utterly nothing interest going on in your life, right? So if you're posting that often when nothing is happening, you can bet that you'll be inclined to start posting a lot more when something interesting, traumatic, and/or calamitous happens. Something like, say, a car accident?
Here's the problem. Without taking extra measures to protect your privacy, your social media information is generally going to be available to anybody who goes looking for it. This includes claim adjusters, and if they find something unfortunate on your Facebook page, they are entirely within their rights to screenshot that junk and use it against you. Here are some of the more common problems that arise when personal injury meets Facebook:
Your social media activity doesn't jive with your claim of injuries.
If you're claiming to be injured, you can bet that the adjuster is going to use whatever tools are at his or her disposal to minimize, or even eradicate entirely, the impact your injuries have on your everyday life. I see this happen all the time; Suzie Plaintiff gets hurt in a car wreck, suffers a herniated disc, and makes a personal injury claim alleging that she can no longer participate in physical activities. The next week, Suzie goes to Antelope Canyon for a backpacking trip and plasters pictures of herself all over Insta. Then the adjuster sees the pictures and pulls money off the table.
Don't be a Suzie! First, don't allege injuries that you don't have; it's wrong, and adjusters are professionally trained to sniff out malingerers. Second, don't over-exert yourself in light of what injuries you do have. You'll exacerbate your injuries, which the insurance company will not compensate you for, and even if you don't, you're still handing the adjuster a golden opportunity to save their employer some dough. Third, don't put compromising content on Facebook in the first place. It's a bad idea; just ask these kids who had their admissions to Harvard pulled awhile back.
You get painted into a corner as a disingenuous, vindictive plaintiff.
So Cletus hit you from behind at 40 miles per hour while he was playing Angry Birds on his iPhone (yeah, the original Angry Birds. Cletus is a monster.). Understandably, this makes you extremely angry. And what's the best place from which to blast your extreme anger into the known universe? Facebook! Twitter! Instagram! Social media is a fantastic platform for making your displeasures known, and when an accident happens, it's all too natural to make sure that all your followers know about it.
Here's the thing, though. Your best bet at getting fair compensation is to approach your claim from an objective and unemotional place (this is one of the truer, and most unpopular, pieces of advice that I offer to clients on a regular basis). You are an injured plaintiff seeking fair compensation from the defendant who negligently injured you; nothing more. If the adjuster can paint you in a different light - as someone with ulterior motives, in other words - then that will seriously damage your claim. If your Facebook page is full of angry posts about what an idiot Cletus is, or Lord forbid if there's a post about how you're going to make Cletus pay for hitting you, then the adjuster (and later, the defense attorney) is going to have an absolute field day with those screenshots. Moral of the story? Take a deep breath, count to ten, scream into your screaming pillow if you need to, but do not snark about the accident on social media.
Your statements get misinterpreted as admissions of your own wrongdoing.
Let's say you get into an accident where you have the green light, Lionel has the red light, and Lionel runs the light and T-bones you. He immediately gets out of the car, apologizes, and offers to pay all of your medical bills. When the cops show up, Lionel prostrates himself before them and begs to be arrested for being such a complete bonehead. The cops write up a crash report listing Lionel as the at-fault driver. Number one, Lionel clearly hasn't read the Car Wreck Canon; number two, you're looking golden. You've got Lionel's admission of fault, and his offer to pay, and the crash report holding him responsible for causing the accident.
Because you're jazzed from the extremely traumatic event that you just experienced, you set Facebook on fire with posts about how you never saw Lionel until he hit you and how you're glad you didn't get new brakes and tires like the mechanic recommended four months ago. These comments seem innocuous, right? Well, the insurance company may not see it that way.
Remember how North Carolina is a contributory negligence state? Well, there's certainly an argument to say that it's contributorily negligent to proceed through an intersection without looking both ways, even when you have the light. There's also a (probably better) argument to say that it's contributorily negligent not to properly maintain your car so as to avoid an impending collision. If the insurance adjuster bothers to take a gander at your Facebook and finds those posts, your offers are going to suffer for it. Your entire claim could be toast.
The best policy? Don't post anything about the accident, period. PERIOD!!!
Yeah, yeah. That's a lot of things not to do. Are there things I should be doing on social media after an accident?
Yes there are! First, if you can manage it, try not to post anything whatsoever, about anything, until after your claim is resolved. Yes, put the torches and pitchforks away, I know that this is asking a lot. Even beyond statements made about the accident itself, adjusters can and do use the nature of unrelated posts, or even the frequency of unrelated posts, to rebut your claims of physical or emotional injury.
Second, if you simply must continue to post on social media, make sure that your accounts are set to private. That means that nobody can see your posts unless you're friends/followers with them. Otherwise, Joe Adjuster could go through all of your accounts freely and use whatever weapons you give him to deny or diminish your claim.
Third, and along the same lines, make sure that you don't accept friend or follower requests from anyone that you don't actually know. This is universally a bad idea for a plethora of reasons, but for these purposes you should assume that the bot account that just friended you is secretly the adjuster trying to get the upper hand.
Finally, be aware that you are leaving a trail of information on social media that is (i) entirely discoverable at trial and (ii) potentially very damaging to your claim. The posts you make, the pictures you post, the messages you send, and the pages that you visit are all archived and can be recovered very, very easily; even after you delete them. I don't mean to go all PATRIOT Act on you, but it's absolutely true that social media archives have sabotaged more than one personal injury claim in North Carolina. Don't let your claim be the next one!
Welp, I'm terrified now. Thanks for that.
Sorry to rain on your Facebook bubble, folks! I know that social media is a lot of fun and that it has a ton of usefulness in today's society. I just want you to protect yourself by staying aware of the many pitfalls that social media can have for your personal injury claim. Be safe, be smart, and please, please, please let me know if you have questions!