These Facebook posts could impact a legal claim in South Africa, warn experts

It might not occur to everyone that using social media can hurt a personal injury claim. However, even seemingly harmless media – like birthday wishes or posts about social outings – can potentially compromise a case, say legal experts at DSC Attorneys.

A legal team may argue that content shared online contradicts the details of a claim, including the claimed suffering and/or impairment due to injury, the group said.

“Lawyers may scour Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and other platforms for evidence to undermine an injured victim’s claim for damages. Both public and private social media content may be admissible in court.

“In a South African case, Harvey v Niland, the court ruled that even unlawfully obtained Facebook communications were admissible in a civil case.”

A warning from the US

DSC Attorneys pointed to a personal injury case in the United States where a woman lost out due to a picture she posted on Facebook. Kathleen Romano suffered a back injury when her office chair collapsed. She instituted a claim against the chair manufacturer – Steelcase.

“She alleged that the chair was defective. She also claimed that her injury confined her largely to her home and led to a loss of enjoyment of life. The manufacturer’s attorneys found a Facebook profile picture of Romano smiling and outside her home, along with MySpace postings featuring ‘smiley’ emojis,” DSC Attorneys said.

“The attorneys argued that the social content appeared to refute Romano’s claims. On this basis, they sought full access to Romano’s accounts. In 2010, a court granted access to private areas of Romano’s social media accounts, including deleted pages.”

Why is social media posting risky if a claim is valid?

While it is obvious that if someone makes a fraudulent injury claim, boasting about it online could have negative legal consequences for them. What’s less obvious is that ‘normal’ social activity might undermine a valid claim, DSC Attorneys said.

“An example might be images taken at a family member’s birthday party – smiling or laughing, and surrounded by others. Appearing happy or social online could be enough to undermine a personal injury claim.

“Other examples are posts that show you out and about, or participating in any form of activity. These might give the impression that you’re more mobile, and that your injuries are less severe than indicated in a claim.”

The safest approach is to avoid using social media altogether, the firm said. It added that if you feel you must use social media to communicate with close family and friends, follow these basic guidelines:

  • Configure your account as private so only friends can access it;
  • Never post anything about your personal injury claim or its progress; and
  • Avoid adding anyone you don’t know as a friend – this could be someone hunting for evidence to refute your claim.

“If you’re concerned about the content of existing posts, it’s best to get advice from your attorney. Usually, it’s best not to delete a post, or a whole account, in case it appears that you’re trying to destroy evidence.”

Read: Facebook to shut down use of facial recognition technology

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These Facebook posts could impact a legal claim in South Africa, warn experts