Monday, December 19, 2011

Five Social Media Tips for Maryland Injury or DWI/DUI Clients

Thousands of Portner & Shure's personal injury and criminal clients, in both Maryland and Virginia, log onto social media sites every day to chronicle their personal and professional lives. These sites create a virtual gold mine of potential legal liability and discoverable information that may have a devastating impact on the outcome of both a Maryland or Virginia accident, or criminal case. One of the first lawsuits to be filed over social medica activity involved country singer, Courtney Love, who was sued by her former designer for defamation concerning alleged damaging statements posted by Love on her Twitter account. Love's supposed damaging tweets were "published" to her 40,000 Twitter followers, and set the stage for the world's first well-known social media suit.

1. Social media content may be used in the courtroom, or by insurance adjusters in matters involving personal injuries, including Maryland and Virginia automobile accidents, workers' compensation and medical malpractice cases. Social media users often post information about vacations, participating in sports or other activities. These posts may be inconsistent with claimed injuries. Information and comments posted by Maryland or Virginia accident injury victims on Facebook, Twitter or blogs, may be admissible at deposition or trial and could destroy or dramatically reduce the value of a Maryland or Virginia injury case. Five years ago a personal injury client at Portner & Shure would be warned that insurance companies may hire an investigator to follow them and video their daily activities. While this practice is now decreasing, the use of adjusters reviewing Facebook or Twitter posts in a Maryland and Virginia in a personal injury case is now on the rise. Be advised that everything a personal injury client is putting on Facebook or Twitter may be reviewed by an insurance adjuster to reduce the value of a Maryland or Virginia automobile accident, workers' compensation or medical malpractice claim. Below are some examples to take into consideration:

a. In one case a woman was claiming that because of her back injuries, suffered in a Maryland car accident, she could no longer walk. An adjuster reviewed her blog posts. In the blogs she described taking belly dancing classes for years. She in fact even posted photo's of her dancing at monthly performances. The photos and blog posts were later shown to her treating physician. The doctor testified that he was:

  • unaware of the woman's belly dancing classes

  • unaware that she had been doing belly dancing monthly performances

  • unable to state she was not physically capable of employment

b. A second time Maryland DUI client recently wondered why he was facing a probation revocation after boasting on Facebook that he just went to a concert and smoked marijuana.

c. The Workers' Compensation Commission recently stopped a clients benefits after an adjuster learned he was making money selling personal items on Craigslist.

2. Under current Maryland or Virginia rules it is not unfair or unethical for a defense attorney or insurance adjuster to collect evidence from your Facebook or Twitter posts. Ethical rules are slowly developing with respect to the boundaries of investigators using social media to destroy or limit Maryland and Virginia automobile accident, workers' compensation or medical malpractice claims. In fact, no hard and fast rules have yet emerged. As a result, you cannot claim foul or unfair, once the damaging information passes into the hands of unwanted persons. At this stage, defense attorneys, insurance defense paralegals, and investigators maybe using "friend requests" to gain access to online information of Portner & Shure automobile accident clients.

3. Social media can be used to attack the need for medical treatment, or the actual testimony of your doctor in a Maryland or Virginia automobile accident, workers' compensation or medical malpractice case. The activities you talk about on Facebook or Twitter, i.e. running, working out, raking leaves, skiing, cannot in anyway be consistent with what you are telling your doctor you cannot perform. In the event that they are, and this is discovered after the course of medical treatment, all the medical bills and treatment may be called into question.

4. At trial credibility (believability) of an accident victim or DUI defendant is at issue. In other words, the outcome often hinges on whether the jury believes this one persons account of what occurred. Social media posts can destroy a plaintiffs credibility. Credibility will cause irreparable damage, if evidence of activities is not inconsistent with the claims made to a medical doctor.

5. In light of the above, we suggest you make sure the following changes while using Facebook or Twitter if you have an active Maryland or Virginia injury case.

a. Check the privacy settings on your accounts and make sure you only share information with people you trust. Never accept a friend request or invitation from someone you don't know;

b. Assume the insurance company and defense lawyers have access to everything you post. Avoid talking about, mentioning, or referring to your case in anyway so that nothing can be used against you in court;

c. Don't put any photos or videos of yourself on Facebook, even if they are from before the accident occurred. Ask your friends to avoid putting any pictures or videos of you on Facebook, and even if they do, request that they be removed or untag yourself right away;

d. Don't engage in any conversations about your injury case in online forums, blogs, chat rooms, message boards or even email;

e. If you are a Maryland or Virginia Chinese speaking, Korean speaking or Spanish speaking automobile accident victim, these rules also apply to you. Insurance companies are using interpreters to go through Facebook, Twitter and blog posts.

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