Can Social Media Effect My Workers’ Compensation Case?
The short answer to the question above: your social media accounts can seriously, and often negatively, impact your Workers’ Compensation case. Or, any other pending legal action as well.
The bottom line is that anything you post publicly can, and will, be used against you. Even if you are not personally active on any of the typical social media sites – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. – it is very likely that you still have a “presence” on these or other sites. For example, you may have a family member or friend who posts actively. Maybe while you were mowing the lawn, and your dog was chasing you, they took a quick video and posted it to their public-facing Facebook account – you now have a presence online that you may not even be aware of!
These websites and apps have become so commonplace in our lives it is hard for the Courts and Judges to determine where to draw the line when an insurance company attempts to submit evidence gained from your, or someone else’s, social media account.
In March 2018, a Court of Common Pleas Judge in Pennsylvania granted an insurance company’s request to access a plaintiff’s private Instagram account. This is alarming because, while there is no question that anything posted on a public-facing social media site or app can be introduced as evidence in a case, typically information that is kept private by using the site’s or app’s security settings is not accessible by your employer or the insurance company.
However, it is important to note that this was only one case. This does not mean that in every future case your employer and their insurance company will be granted access to your private account. Indeed, the Judge’s ruling in that case is subject to review from higher courts – that means that a different judge may determine that ordering access to a private account crosses a line and is not allowed.
All this information only emphasizes how careful you must be when you have an active Workers’ Compensation case or any active litigation. The insurance company can, and will, investigate your public-facing social media pages. They will also look at your friends’ and family members’ accounts if they can. It can never be stressed enough that once something is posted to the internet, it is there permanently.
So, what can you do?
First off, and most importantly: you cannot delete anything that has already been posted. This could be destruction of evidence and could get you into a lot of trouble – potentially even charged criminally.
So, now that we’ve established that you should absolutely not delete anything that has been posted, the next step is that you can, and absolutely should, turn all of your privacy settings on, and set them to their highest level possible. Normally, this means that you have to approve every person before they can see your content.
Ultimately, the Judge will have to answer the question of whether you have a “reasonable expectation of privacy” when you post something to your account. It is much easier to convince a Judge that you expected your posts to remain private when you actively take steps to ensure that you know exactly who is viewing your content at all times.
Even taking these precautionary steps does not guarantee that your Employer or the insurance company will not find something on the internet to use against you. As our lives become more interconnected it becomes more apparent that we must always use caution and think about the potentially permanent consequences of using social media.
However, here are some things to consider…
Information on social media is not private. Once you post, share, tag or text, it can never be taken back or deleted- it’s out there waiting to be discovered. Whether you realize you’re doing it or not, sharing information about your legal matters can damage your case. Follow these simple tips when it comes to social media and your workers’ compensation or other legal matter.
- Don’t use Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Flickr, Skype, Intsagram and all other social media while being represented by an attorney or law firm.
- Do change your privacy settings. Select the highest privacy level and accept no follower requests from people you don’t know- it could be an insurance company trying to gain access to your profiles.
- Don’t delete any existing accounts during litigation, you could be accused of trying to destroy evidence.
- Don’t communicate with your lawyer using a device provided by your employer. Doing this could provide someone with easy access to your sensitive and confidential legal information.
- Don’t use a work or shared email account.Use a private email account that is password protected and only accessible from your personal smartphone or computer.
Social media websites make it easier for us to share the details of our lives with others. We can send information to a large amount of people with just one click. We can post pictures of important or noteworthy events. While most of these photos are just a simple way to share memories, some postings can result in problems down the line.
In 2012, a case in Arkansas made national news when an injured worker was denied his request for an extension of workers’ compensation benefits. He was originally injured when a refrigerator fell on top of him, which resulted in a hernia.
After several operations, the worker reported that the injury was still impacting his ability to work. The employer, and the employer’s insurer, submitted photos from Facebook that they claimed demonstrated that the injured worker was healthy and able to work.
Despite the worker’s objections, the commission in Arkansas allowed the pictures to be admitted into evidence as it believed that they were similar to information that could be obtained by doing surveillance.
This case is important for injured workers in Pennsylvania because it highlights how easy it is for employers to find out information about their employees by using the internet. Employers may also look at postings made by friends and family to try to prove that an injured worker is healthy enough to return to work.
Injured workers need to be extremely cautious about the information they submit online. Anything that an employer can find can be taken out of context and used to deny benefits.
Remember, this is intended for legal information purposes only and is not intended as legal advice – if you’d like to learn more please give us a call; every case is different and we can only provide legal advice if we learn about all the facts of your case.