Facebook and Pennsylvania Personal Injury Claims

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With over one billion users, Facebook has become an integral part of many people’s lives.  From posting pictures of their most recent dinner concoction to informing the world of what time they plan on attending the gym tonight, a good segment of our society enjoys posting the daily happenings of their lives on Facebook and other social networking sites.

Although Facebook postings are usually benign, they can significantly impact your personal injury case. When it comes to personal injury claims in Pennsylvania, a single posting has the potential of threatening the success of an injury victim’s case.

Recent Pennsylvania cases have given us some insight into how Facebook postings, even though intended to remain private, can become discoverable during the course of a case.  In Trail v. Lesko (2012 Pa. Dist. & Cnty. Dec. LEXIS 194), a 2012 case out of Allegheny County, a common pleas court stated that “the party seeking the discovery needs to show only that the discovery is reasonably likely to furnish relevant evidence, not available elsewhere, that will have an impact on the outcome of the case.” 

A good example of this rule in practice is a 2010 case out of Jefferson County, McMillen v. Hummingbird Speedway, Inc. (2010 Pa. Dist. & Cnty. Dec. LEXIS 270).  There, the court examined whether the plaintiff was required to produce his Facebook password to the defendant.  Important to the court’s ultimate ruling in favor of the defendant, the court noted that the plaintiff “has alleged significant and substantial injuries, some of which he claims may be permanent.”  The court then reasoned that because the public portion of the plaintiff’s Facebook contained photographs that showed him attending a fishing trip and the Daytona 500, it was reasonable to assume that the plaintiff’s “private” Facebook contained other information about those trips relevant to the severity and permanency of his injuries.

In light of the above, we offer the following tips to our clients:

  1. The best practice is to refrain from posting anything about your personal injury case on Facebook, or any other social networking site. This obviously includes information directly addressing your case. But, as the above discussion demonstrates, it also includes information that you may not even think has a bearing on your case, such as pictures from a party or an event that you attended.
  2. Only share information with your “friends.”  The more information that is publicly available, the more ammunition an opposing attorney will have to argue that your Facebook password should be disclosed.
  3. Of course, in order to make #2 possible, ratchet up those privacy settings. They are located on the top right corner of Facebook’s homepage. If your settings say that the public can see your posts, then the public really can see your posts.
  4. When in doubt, contact your Philadelphia personal injury attorney.

Personal injury claims can be stressful.  One simple step we ask our clients to take to help minimize this stress is to refrain from talking to others about their pending cases, and this includes posting on Facebook.

If you have been involved in an accident in which another person was at fault, call DiSandro & Malloy for a free consultation.


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