Danger: Facebook and lawsuits are a BAD mix

by Steven M. Gursten

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Accident lawyer suggests deactivating account until case is over

If you use a social networking account such as Facebook or Twitter, our accident lawyers STRONGLY recommend that you stop – right now.

Our Michigan accident lawyers are not recommending that you delete your accounts, but we do strongly recommend that you temporarily deactivate your account until your lawsuit is over.

Why? I have now seen and heard of dozens of examples where insurance defense lawyers and claims adjusters are finding information that is really hurting people.

Look, I hate to say this, but that old picture from BEFORE your accident… well that’s the one that the insurance defense lawyer will be blowing up in court to say it reflects your CURRENT level of activity. And that picture you love of you having a few beers with friends… that doesn’t really help your case either.

What insurance defense lawyers and insurance adjusters are looking for

Good insurance defense lawyers look for wedge issues. They like taking surveillance of bumper stickers on your car or snippets of the music on your answering machine. They know that chances are, those things may offend SOMEONE on your jury. And ultimately, good defense lawyers know that the real reason that juries give injured victims money is because they like that person, and they want to help them.

Please don’t help defense lawyers build a case against you. We live in a world today where many people are already so suspicious or even resentful toward anyone who is filing a civil lawsuit — no matter how deserving of compensation that case may be. It is simply the by-product of 20 years and tens of millions of dollars in propaganda by insurance companies, cigarette manufacturers and some business groups to change people’s minds.

Are they bad people for doing this? Well, actually some of them are. But most are simply doing their job. But their job is to do things to lessen the damages they have to pay you for the harms they have caused. Their job in our adversarial civil justice system is to mine your Facebook account and find things that they can later use to hurt your case. Most of these things have absolutely NOTHING to do with your case, but just trust me, you can now expect claims adjusters and defense insurance lawyers to look into your social media use in every single case.

Posting photographs and videos are almost always a bad idea. And personal feelings you have about the person who smacked into you with his car and caused your injuries, really bad idea.

This is one of those areas where a quick trigger finger hitting post can really come back to haunt you. So just know that if you choose not to temporarily deactivate your accounts, we warn you to use great caution. Whatever you write or post will probably fall into the hands of the defense attorney or insurance company.

It is now standard practice for insurance companies to run computer searches and investigations to obtain information about your personal life. They can and will obtain it without your knowledge and your permission. Increasingly, they will demand that you provide them with your account passwords. They can and will also ask the court to order release of your password information and even your personal emails.

Our best advice as experienced accident lawyers is that you take down your sites until your case is over.

What not to post on Facebook

If you choose not to take my advice and temporarily deactivate your social network accounts (bad idea), at least follow these specific recommendations:

Do not:

o Allow anyone to become a “friend” on a website like Facebook unless you are absolutely sure you know that person.

o Post any photographs or video of yourself (or enable others to “tag” you).

o Write or disclose anything about your personal life that your mother would be embarrassed to have a defense attorney use against you in front of a judge and jury (I used to say that you would be embarrassed about – but I changed this to your mom because it is shocking how little can embarrass people these days – which probably explains most of reality TV).

o Send e-mails regarding your case to anyone except your own attorney.

o Send texts regarding your case to anyone except your attorney.

o Participate in blogs, chat-rooms or message boards.

o Respond to baiting.

Also, as of July 2012, keep in mind that Facebook has made a change. According to our investigation, it appears that even if your profile is set to private and you block comments on your own wall, when you make comments to other people’s walls, they will appear on their wall and yours. A good defense attorney will likely find these comments.

How electronic surveillance gets taken out of context

I’ve seen electronic surveillance go from every once in a while to standard practice on nearly all of my cases in the past two years. There is a whole protocol now for insurance companies, investigators, and defense attorneys to follow regarding these social media sites in every personal injury case.

They hope to discover information to embarrass, humiliate or hurt you. They will look for pictures or comments by you or your friends that they can take out of context to prove that your injury is exaggerated or false.

Both myself and the other accident lawyers here at Michigan Auto Law have seen innocent, harmless joking between private “friends,” used and distorted by insurance companies to try to convince a judge and jury that a plaintiff is not as hurt as he or she truly is. And as I said before, they love to use old pictures or pictures out of context to say you are being dishonest.

Court orders for computer information, hard drives, cell phone records and Facebook

Be aware that the insurance companies may ask the court to order release of all information contained within your home computers and laptop hard drives regarding the issues we have discussed above. We have seen insurance companies subpoena cell phone records to obtain transcripts from texting. We have seen them subpoena Facebook and other social networking sites.

I recognize that asking you to limit your social networking is a great inconvenience. It is one of those areas where the plaintiff is victimized again by the same defendant. First they cause the car accident and injury you, and then the insurance company injures you again by engaging in this type of behavior.

But your case is very important, and if you are seriously injured, you need to understand that your case will be aggressively defended. You only have one chance under our law to recover fair compensation.

I cannot protect you unless you follow our warnings and instructions.

How to deactivate a Facebook account

Step 1 – Left click the drop down menu to the right of “HOME.” Select “Account Settings.”

Step 2 – Left click “Security” from left menu.

Step 3 – Left click “Deactivate your account.”

Step 4 – Select a “Reason for Leaving.” Most people select “This is temporary. I’ll be back.”

Step 5 – Left clock “CONFIRM” button (This step is not pictured).

Related information to protect yourself:

6 social media tips for auto injury plaintiffs

17 mistakes that can ruin your car accident lawsuit