This is an article written by fellow trial lawyer Chris Davis, in Seattle, Washington about a client’s case that he handled. It is very instructive about the dangers of social networking sites.
Insurance Company Discovers Client’s FaceBook Page; Reduces Offer by $20,000
This is a true story.
I represent a young man I’ll call “Jerry.” Jerry was injured in a rear-end auto accident more than 3 years ago. He sustained fairly significant neck and back injuries which plagued him for at least a couple of years, and which still continue to cause occasional pain and discomfort depending on his activities.
We sued the driver who caused the accident. As is customary, the other driver’s insurance company hired its own lawyer to defend the case. The case proceeded through discovery, with both sides exchanging documents, medical records, and other information perintent to the claim. Experts were also hired by both sides to review records and give opinions at trial.
Jerry’s deposition was taken. A deposition is a face-to-face meeting between Jerry and the other lawyer where he answers questions under oath. Jerry answered the insurance defense attorney’s questions truthfully. We had actually prepared for the deposition several days before, so Jerry was fully prepped on how to answer questions under oath. Jerry described how his injuries had affected him, how he lost time from work, and how the doctors were telling him that he may need periodic medical treatment off and on to treat his neck and back pain symptoms in the future.
About 30 days before trial (and after my office spent thousands of dollars working the case and preparing it for trial), I received a stack of materials from the defense attorney that she intended to submit to the jury. Among these documents were several photographs showing Jerry snowboarding. One photo showed Jerry going off a jump on his snowboard. Included with these materials was a CD ROM containing a video which showed Jerry snowboarding and going off jumps on his snowboard at a high rate of speed.
These photos and video of Jerry were downloaded from Jerry’s Facebook and Myspace pages. The photos and video were taken a few years after the accident.
Jerry couldn’t understand why these photos and video were such a big deal. I explained to him that trials are all about PERCEPTION. The problem was the perception that these materials were likely to create for the jury. Namely, that Jerry didn’t suffer that much from the accident, and in fact, he wasn’t injured that bad at all because he could resume and engage in the dangerous and highly physically demanding sport of snowboarding.
Frankly, it didn’t matter what Jerry told the jury in his trial because the jury was always going to remember the video showing Jerry weaving back and forth on his snowboard at a high rate of speed. And seeing Jerry going off jumps several feet in the air, and then landing hard on the slope.
I spoke to the insurance adjustor about the claim in an effort to settle the case and avoid trial. She told me that she had previously evaluated Jerry’s claim at a much higher amount. But then she saw the photos and video showing Jerry snowboarding. She no longer believed that Jerry was in as much pain, or had as many difficulties following the accident, that Jerry described in his deposition. The insurance adjustor now had a different perspective on Jerry’s case, and as a result, decided to reduce her evaluation by at least $20,000.
Frankly, I was not surprised. Why wouldn’t the insurance company do this when the evidence of the photos and video was so powerful and could be easily used to undermine any argument I made to the jury that the accident caused my client significant injuries and problems?
Several months ago at Davis Law Group we informed all of our clients about the risk of posting photos and video on Facebook, Myspace and other social media sites which could irrevocably damage the client’s case. Jerry’s case is a perfect example of this.
If you have a personal injury case, you need to be aware of the lengths to which the insurance company will go to dig up any information on you in an effort to damage your credibility and hurt your case. Jerry learned this the hard way. His mistake literally cost him at least $20,000.