Maryland car accident victims should refrain from posting images of themselves on social media if their injuries are not quite as serious as they claim. That was the advice a personal injury attorney gave during an insurance industry conference in California. The attorney told attendees about a married couple who posted pictures of themselves having fun in a back yard swimming pool. The images were damaging to the couple because they had claimed in a lawsuit that they both suffered serious spinal cord injuries in a car accident.
Sock puppet accounts
Attorneys and insurance companies have traditionally hired private investigators to observe motor vehicle accident victims who they suspect may be exaggerating the severity of their injuries, but they are now more likely to search for the evidence they seek on social media platforms like Facebook or Instagram. To prevent their targets from becoming suspicious, attorneys and insurance companies may set up “sock puppet” accounts rather than logging in with their own credentials.
Privacy issues and ex parte communication
Gathering evidence from social media platforms should be done carefully. Setting up an account and then sending a friend request to a car accident victim could get an attorney into trouble with a state bar association for engaging in ex parte communication, and using images posted on social media without permission could violate copyright laws.
The public domain
Social media has become woven into the fabric of life for many Americans, but car accident victims should think very carefully before posting images on these platforms. Photographs of an individual who claims to be seriously injured engaging in vigorous activities could undermine their insurance or personal injury claim, and arguing that the images are protected by copyright are unlikely to be persuasive. This is because courts around the country have ruled that social media posts are in the public domain and can be used by attorneys and insurance companies.