You should always be cautious of what you say or post on the Internet. This should apply even more so if you have an ongoing lawsuit.
Imagine that you put private information or inappropriate photos of yourself on the side walk in your home town. Anyone in your town, your parents, the pastor at your church, your boss, the police, your enemies, anyone could see it and use it against you.
Would you go to work or church after drinking alcohol? Then why would you leave comments on the Internet after you are drinking alcohol for anyone to see?
The police can arrest you based on illegal activity on the side walk. They would not need a warrant or probable cause to look at what you left in the open. Because the side walk is a public place, you have no legal expectation of privacy.
If anyone in your hometown could see your information on your side walk, then anyone in the WORLD could potentially see what you post on the World Wide Web. Like the cement side walk; this electronic sidewalk gives you no right to privacy.
You cannot expect or rely on Facebook or any other social net work’s “privacy settings” to protect you. They have all kinds of rights to share your information. You are not paying any “consideration” to them to legally demand privacy. Besides once it is out it is out forever.
The internet is not information stored on some big computer somewhere. The Internet consists of the linking of every computer on the web in the world. Once you post something on the web it is there forever! There is no taking it back.
Imagine you apply for a job operating dangerous heavy equipment and your future boss sees you smoking marijuana on your facebook page? One late night blunder of posting the picture costs you the ability to support your family.
Suppose you tell a jury that due to your car wreck that you no longer participate in certain fun activities, yet the insurance company shows them pictures of you riding on someone’s shoulders and “flashing” in New Orleans?
Get the picture?
Due to the popularity of social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace, and the examples discussed above, we feel it is important to caution you about disclosing information online.
You should never publish information about your case or lawsuit or injuries, and you must realize that any statement, picture or joke can be used against you.
For example, comments about the litigation you are involved in; pictures of you waterskiing; dancing; or other strenuous, physical and/or embarrassing activities (e.g., drug and alcohol references/pictures, etc.)
Keep in mind that opposing parties, insurance companies, their investigators and lawyers may attempt to look at or to subpoena access to your MySpace, Facebook, or similar social networking pages.
They are looking for anything that can hurt your case. Producing these records in court is becoming increasingly common. Despite the instinctive response “What does this have to do with my case?” it is an attempt to fish for information and to “see” things to determine your character and/or credibility.
With this said, the safest course of action is to temporarily “deactivate” your account. Face book allows users to deactivate their account, keeping all the information and settings for easy, instant reactivation.
If you join or have already joined an online social network such as My Space, Facebook, or a similar social networking page, notify our office. If you chose to keep your account active, you do so at your own risk.
Until your case is finalized, be careful what is contained on your page. If possible, make your page private/by invitation only. Even if your page is private, during a lawsuit the opposing party, insurance company, or their lawyers may request permission from the Judge to access/view your web-page. Such a request is often granted by the Court, so please be careful what you post or say on your site.
In addition to face book, understand anything anywhere on the internet about you can be accessed. We employ an in house investigator and we often run background information on the defendants, witnesses, the adjuster, and anyone on the other side of the case. This is often helpful in exposing what type of person they are (character) and who we are dealing with.
A defendant who rents a mobile home or owns a $500,000.00 house free and clear, can effect if the insurance company will pay their insurance policy limits in a settlment.
The defendants criminal back ground can be useful in a case. In addition personal matters such as if they have children or family members who they can relate as similar to the plaintiff, may affect their decision making. An example is a brain injured ten year old. If the defendant has a ten year old child they may be more understanding. Information is power. Inversely all this information about you can be discovered as well by the insurance company and their lawyers.
Not just on face book, but virtually everything in writing over the last 100 years is available on the internet. It does not have to be hacked, most information is accessible somewhere. Suppose in a post on a chat room you had given someone your cell phone number or email address or your home address, it can be found electronically.
There are software programs that will instantly access all the documents where your name is mentioned. Even without your name, some common information like a PO Box, home address, phone number, can find obscure (thought to be hidden) information on you.
Recently our in-house investigator ran a sample investigative report on two of us to see what all showed up. In less than 5 minutes he had over a 200 page report on me! It started by showing a graph listing my family (alive and deceased), my children, my parents, my step father and his relatives, my ex wife, her ex-husband and all the relatives of each of them. It showed every address where I have lived for the past 50 years including an apartment in Clarkston Georgia that I rented for just 6 months over 30 years ago. The apartments had changed names and owners, but my information was still there. All my employers were listed. Many former neighbors where listed. Anyone who I had rented or bought a home from or who I had sold a home came up in the report. It listed facts and dates and information that I had long since forgotten.
On the other staff member the report was over 2000 pages.
My point is Big Brother is watching, anything about you can be accessed through public records. This included credit information, driving records, criminal records, evictions, debts, anything! You should let your attorney know if there is any information or record or photos that you are concerned about so they will not be blindsided at trial.
Be careful out there.
Howard E. Spiva