on a potentially serious development in the law for personal injury plaintiffs who are also aficionados of Facebook. In California, a state court ruled that information on the plaintiff's Facebook page and on other social networking sites posting were discoverable to the defendants despite the plaintiff frantically relying on privacy and electronic data laws. A federal court turned it around on appeal, however, deciding that this plaintiff's privacy settings determined the case. Because the California plaintiff set his privacy settings such that only "friends" could see the information posted, his profile information was considered as private as an email, and thus, not discoverable to the other side.
Not so in New York. An allegedly seriously injured plaintiff who sued a furniture company after falling out of a chair posted a happy, smiley picture of herself as her Facebook profile picture. Naturally, this attracted the attention of the defense attorney in the case who requested access to both her Facebook and MySpace profiles. Like the California plaintiff, this New York plaintiff's privacy settings were also set high as to allow only friends to view her information. But the judge decided that when the plaintiff joined Facebook and other social networking sites, she agreed that her information would be shared and thus, she lost the expectation of privacy. The judge determined that she could not use Facebook to hide behind when making serious allegations in a lawsuit.
Both the California and New York courts used a 1986 federal electronic communications law to determine their cases but Congress is currently updating that law which will, ideally, clarify the intersection of social networking and civil litigation.
Only two states so far have directly addressed this issue. Georgia courts haven't ruled on this subject--for now, but be forewarned. I should note that in a case in my former life as a defense attorney for insurance companies, I was able to access an injured plaintiff's Facebook page. She had failed to set up any privacy filters (it was open for all to see)--and I later questioned her in a deposition regarding pictures of her appearing to have a great time at multiple parties.
It's advisable to keep one's private life private and keep Facebook far, far away from anything to do with your injury claim or lawsuit. A skilled defense attorney could take an innocent photo or status update and twist it into something it's not.
Attorney Scott Williamson assists victims of negligence all over Georgia and North Atlanta: Dunwoody, Alpharetta, Sandy Springs, Roswell, Marietta, Smyrna, Johns Creek, Norcross, Duluth, Chamblee, and Tucker.
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