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Since the rise of the digital age and social media’s takeover, the law has had to adjust to this new form of communication and determine how it can be used in court. While it has already been decided in the past that social media posts can be used as evidence in court because they are considered public information, it has recently been called into question whether data that is considered “private” by the social media platform can be used as evidence regardless of whether the user willingly forfeits the information.
In a recent personal injury case, a plaintiff claimed injuries after suffering from spine and traumatic brain injuries as a result of falling from a horse owned by the defendant. The plaintiff cited her Facebook account—which had since been deleted—in her deposition, explaining that she had posted photos of the lifestyle she had before her accident which would speak to the severity of her injuries and her diminished quality of life as a result of the accident.
The defendant requested access to the plaintiff’s private Facebook account, and when the plaintiff refused to provide the discovery, the defendant argued that the private Facebook data would be relevant to establishing the extent of the plaintiff’s injuries and may also speak to her credibility, as well as her claims that she now had trouble reading, writing, and using a computer. The defendant believed that the timestamps on the private Facebook messages would be able to prove how long it took the plaintiff to respond to messages and generally use a computer.
This issue was debated in the New York Supreme Court, the Appellate Division, First Department, and the Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals ultimately upheld the Supreme Court’s original decision that these private messages—including the photographs of the plaintiff before the accident that she intended to use during trial—and all post-accident records on the platform that provided timestamp data would be permitted in discovery.
Further, the Court decided that Facebook’s—or other social media platforms—public and privacy settings and policies do not govern what can or cannot be disclosed in terms of social media material. However, it also ruled that the reasons for disclosing social media data must be justifiable and that simply filing a personal injury action does not warrant the discovery of all of a person’s social media data. The state’s established discovery rules must be abided by and applied to each situation to decide if social media data can be disclosed and used during trial.
In today’s digital climate, it is easy for your digital data to be used against you and it is important to be wary of what you decide to use from social media to support your personal injury case. The Brooklyn personal injury lawyers at Goldberg Sager & Associates are experienced in handling the challenges posed by social media during a personal injury matter and can help you develop a beneficial strategy to receiving compensation for your injuries. For more information or to schedule a consultation, call (718) 514-9516.