What effect does social media have on a personal injury claim?

This article looks at why Facebook posts are being admitted as evidence in lawsuits and why that’s a problem.

When somebody makes a personal injury claim, it is not uncommon for the insurer to investigate and scrutinize that claim vigorously. In the past, such investigations were costly and time consuming and often involved having to hire private investigators to document whether there was anything about the claimant's behaviour or physical abilities that may suggest the claim was fraudulent or exaggerated. Today, however, insurers can simply look at a claimant's Facebook profile and discover in a few seconds what previously would have taken weeks or months to uncover. However, when it comes to determining the veracity of a personal injury claim, social media is not always a reliable witness and it could place even legitimate claims in trouble.

The dangers of Facebook

Since Facebook and other social media sites offer written and photographic documentation of how a person is living their life, it should come as no surprise that in personal injury lawsuits such evidence proves very useful to insurance companies defending against claims. However, while there are times when that evidence could uncover fraudulent claims - such as if a person claimed that their car accident left them unable to walk and then Facebook photos showed them participating in a marathon - social media posts need to be treated with a fair degree of skepticism in a lawsuit.

That's because social media doesn't always reflect what the poster is actually feeling, but rather often presents an unrealistically ideal lifestyle. As the National Post reports, in one 2010 Alberta case the judge warned that Facebook profiles were not always reliable evidence since they contained "a certain amount of puffery." That "puffery" can mislead juries and even judges into thinking that a claimant is living a much happier life than may actually be the case.

How important is Facebook?

However, while some judges have been reluctant to admit social media evidence into the courtroom, not all have. In most cases, one party will have to argue why such evidence should or should not be admitted as evidence. As Global News reports, it is ultimately up to the judge to decide how much weight to give to that evidence.

Judges tend to treat social media evidence on a case-by-case basis. Determining whether a Facebook photo undermines a personal injury claim is fairly straightforward in the case of physical injuries, but it is far more difficult to prove in cases of trauma, depression, and psychological injuries, where a photo rarely tells the whole story about what a person is actually feeling. Nonetheless, Facebook photos have controversially been admitted as evidence even in cases where injury victims claimed they were suffering from a mental illness.

Getting help with a claim

As the above article shows, problems can arise even when making what may appear to be a straightforward injury claim. That's why anybody who has suffered an injury, no matter how "airtight" they think their claim is, should contact a personal injury lawyer. An experienced lawyer will help clients understand what forms of compensation may be open to them and how to go about making a claim that has the best chance of succeeding.