With the unprecedented rise and popularity of social media, this medium of communication has recently become a very hot topic in the legal community. Websites such as Facebook, Twitter and My Space have made it easy for, and in fact, encourage individuals to post just about anything concerning every aspect of their lives without a second thought.
In recent years, these websites have become a treasure trove for defense lawyers gathering background information on a plaintiff particularly in the context of workers compensation, disability or personal injury litigation. A half hour of searching around these sites can often yield more useful information then hiring a private investigator, at a substantial cost, to follow a plaintiff around with the mere hope of catching him/her in an act that might be damaging to their claim.
Although a photograph of a party swimming, running, dancing, etc., may seem completely innocuous on its face, such material can be very useful in court to minimize and down-play the extent of physical injuries which that party is claiming. Even a photograph depicting a litigant lying on the beach, soaking up some sun and drinking a daiquiri can be quite damaging where that individual is claiming to have sustained emotional distress or loss of enjoyment of life. Likewise, a plaintiff's case can be adversely impacted when a friend "tags" them in a picture, especially when they do not have their privacy settings properly enabled. These photographs or posts can be very effective in persuading a jury to award sustainably less than they might otherwise be inclined.
No matter which side of the "v" you are on, it is important for attorneys to understand the potential impact of social media in the context of personal injury litigation. For plaintiff's counsel, it is prudent to strongly advise your client to deactivate all their social media accounts before the action is even commenced. If this is not practical, at the very least, make sure all privacy settings are enabled to limit the possibility of accidental disclosure of harmful information. For defense counsel, as soon as you are assigned a personal injury case, take an hour searching the internet and see if you can pull up anything on the plaintiff. As the case progresses, make sure to periodically conduct these interest searches. You never know what potential nugget of invaluable information may be floating around in cyberspace.