How might Facebook threaten or benefit a personal injury claim?

Courts are becoming increasingly involved with social media presented by either party during trial. The evidence can affect a party’s case either positively or negatively by placing emphasis as to what really happened in the jury’s minds. It is also possible the jury may get a taste of the plaintiff’s or defendant’s personality in the pictures or videos admitted into evidence and this can hurt or help one side or the other.

The American Bar Association (“ABA”) has recently reported a judge has ordered the parties in a personal injury lawsuit to hire a “neutral forensic computer expert” to probe into a plaintiff’s Facebook account. The plaintiff, Perrone, asserted she slipped and fell in “a puddle of liquid in an [Lancaster Regional Medical Center and Hospital Housekeeping Systems’] elevator, suffered serious injuries to her knee and back, and that she needs surgery but cannot afford it.” . The defense claims Perrone was injured while playing in the snow.

The judge’s order granted limited discovery by granting the “neutral expert authority” to investigate Perrone’s private Facebook account during a seventeen-day window after Perrone allegedly fell Defendants will bear the cost of the expert authority who will download Perrone’s Facebook data to discover if the defendant’s assertions are true. The defense argued it would be impossible for Perrone to “play in the snow” with the injuries she allegedly sustained in the accident. The defense asserted, “Perrone exhibit[ed] in the images ‘no visible indications of pain whatsoever.” Perrone, on the other hand, argued that the pictures were actually taken before the accident, even though they were posted at a later time.

The Legal Intelligencer reported, “Information available on a person’s public page, or lack thereof, has become the predominant standard among state judges in granting or denying access to a party’s entire Facebook or other social media account.”

This could be a concern for plaintiffs in particular when claiming they suffered an injury and the defense demands entry into a Facebook account. However, giving defendant’s access to a Facebook account can be beneficial if there are not entries that would negatively impact the plaintiff’s case. It’s important for all parties to remember even if your Facebook account is private, the information could still be accessed through discovery.