Can social media damage or destroy a personal injury compensation claim? The short answer is, yes.
Social media is everywhere and we, as a society, are used to sharing increasing information about our daily lives.
You may think that the people who are showing an interest in your social media posts are your friends and family. If you are pursuing a personal injury claim for compensation you may find that your opponent’s insurance company are also taking a keen interest in your social media activity.
Why do insurance companies check Claimant social media posts?
We are seeing more and more instances of defendant insurers and solicitors checking the posts of claimants in personal injury cases. Why? To see if the information posted online contradicts the information given by a claimant in the claim.
If you are making a personal injury claim, there is a strong chance that the opposing insurance company will be snooping. Insurance companies employ investigators to review claimant social media profiles. They trawl through your photos and posts. They will try to access private Facebook accounts by sending friend requests to you or your friends, so they can gain access to your private posts. They collect the information and send it to the insurers for use in disputing or undermining your claim.
Searching social media to find fraudulent & dishonest claims
A claimant who claims that their mobility is limited due to injury,but who then posts Facebook photos of themselves running a marathon, is very likely (understandably) to have their claim disputed by an insurer.
Similarly, a claimant who claims that their injury has prevented them from working, but who then posts about the work that they have done, is likely to find their claim for loss of earnings rejected and their injury claim queried.
A claimant making blatantly false claims within a compensation claim is unlikely to receive any sympathy from the insurers, the court or their own solicitors, and could find themselves the subject of a fraud prosecution. The information and photographs that a claimant posts on social media could very well be part of the evidence used to prove that a claim is fraudulent.
A genuine claim …. but the injury exaggerated?
In some cases, social media posts can be evidence that a Claimant has lied about an aspect of an otherwise genuine claim. This could include claiming for financial losses that have not been incurred or exaggerating the injury by claiming that the injury is more serious than it is.
If the court finds that a Claimant has been dishonest about any aspect of the claim, including exaggerating any injuries or losses, the whole claim can be struck out. Additionally, in such cases, it is likely that the dishonest claimant will be ordered to pay the opponent’s legal costs in connection with the claim.
Dishonestly exaggerating even part of your claim can cost you both your claim and a big legal bill.
Social Media can give a ‘wrong’ impression of a genuine injury and damage a compensation claim
Most people use social media to post positive information and photos of their lives. Social media posts, generally, are used to show the ‘best’ experiences. Positive photographs, particularly if they show the Claimant having a good time, could suggest that an injured claimant has made a full recovery, when the reality is that they are still suffering. Some social media posts might even give the impression that no injury was sustained at all even though a genuine injury has been sustained.
A friend of mine was involved in a car accident. Somebody ran into the back of her car, causing a lot of damage. My friend mentioned the accident on Facebook. Immediately, there were dozens of enquiries asking if she was ok. She replied that she was a bit shaken up and annoyed about the damage, but she was ‘ok’.
Such a comment might suggest that she hadn’t sustained an injury. The reality was that she developed increasing neck pain later that evening and needed medical attention. She had to take daily painkillers and 2 months after the accident she was still seeing a physiotherapist every week.
The accident not only caused a whiplash-type neck injury, but also aggravated an existing neck and shoulder injury which she had sustained in an accident a few years earlier. The neck injury, as is common, also caused daily headaches. My friend was getting married just 3 months after the accident and the injury seriously affected her ability to deal with the wedding preparations, her work was affected by the pain and headaches, she couldn’t go to the gym or do her usual exercise.
For weeks she was in almost constant pain. She didn’t post about any of these negative things on her social media. Her Facebook page was instead, understandably, filled with excited posts about her upcoming wedding. The ‘behind the scenes’ reality of the injury was not to be seen anywhere on her social media. The only post about her accident suggested that she ‘was ok’. In reality, she was suffering with a genuine injury which caused a significant impact to her life.
The difference between genuine reality and the information posted on social media can be huge.
The situation with psychological injuries can be even more difficult
Conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression are not visible to the naked eye and do not show up on x-rays. Nevertheless they can have a profound effect on a claimant’s day to day life. However, any such claims are likely to result in social media investigations by Defendant insurers and solicitors.
This was highlighted in a high profile case where a claimant, Sarah Tambosso, claimed that her life was a wreck and that she was depressed after two car accidents. Having been shown 200 pages from the claimant’s Facebook page, which showed her looking happy and attending social events, the judge rejected the claim for compensation on the basis that there were problems with the Claimant’s ‘credibility’.
The problem with such cases is that a claimant’s social media posts don’t necessarily reflect the true state of the claimant’s condition. Some people are prepared to be very open and honest about their feelings and limitations when posting on social media but many people want to promote a more positive impression when posting to Facebook or Twitter. Many people try to appear more happy, positive and ‘up-beat’ on social media than they actually feel.
The reality is that a claimant could find themselves being investigated and potentially penalised for appearing ‘happy’ on social media.
The Camera Never Lies …. or does it?
Remember the old saying: ‘The Camera Never Lies’? In these digital days this is no longer true. With the ability to easily alter and filter photographs, photos aren’t always what they may seem.
Beckett & Co Solicitors recently acted for a young woman who sustained scars to her face in a serious road traffic accident. We obtained professional photographs showing the scarring, supported by a statement from the photographer confirming that the photographs had not been altered or filtered in any way.
We submitted the statement and photographs to the defendant solicitors along with other evidence in support of the claim. In response, the opponent insurance company solicitors provided a statement from a ‘social media investigator’ attaching dozens of photographs of our client taken from our client’s Facebook page. The insurance company solicitors argued that the Facebook photos were evidence that the facial scarring was not particularly noticeable as it was not particularly visible on the Facebook photographs.
Fortunately, our own professionally produced photographs, supported by a statement by the photographer, provided excellent evidence to show the true extent and nature of the scarring. In comparison, the Facebook photographs were of poor quality (in some cases not showing the area of scarring at all). In most cases the Facebook photos had been altered by use of filters prior to posting. Our client’s claim for compensation for scarring was successful, but the case highlights the fact that almost any type of case could be subject to a social media investigation.
It should also be noted that our client’s Facebook settings limited visibility of her photos to ‘Friends of Friends’ only. This didn’t, however, prevent the insurance investigator from accessing and downloading them.
Be aware: your social media posts are being checked
It is absolutely essential that claimants are truthful when pursuing a claim. Claimants should be aware that their social media posts are likely to be subject to scrutiny. Photos, comments, and videos posted online may well find their way into evidence at court.
Both claimant and defendant solicitors are committed to stamping out fraud in personal injury claims. Information from social media is one way that fraud will be investigated. Genuine claimants must also be aware that if their social media posts give a misleading impression of their true medical condition, such posts are likely to be used against them by insurers seeking to avoid payment of damages.
Social media posts are evidence during a personal injury claim
When you pursue a claim for compensation after an accident you will be required to disclose any documents which are relevant to your claim. This is particularly the case if your claim is pursued via the court. As part of the claim process, each side is entitled to request sight of all documents and photos which might be relevant to the claim.
Increasingly, insurers are using investigators to access a claimant’s social media posts and photos. Even if an investigator doesn’t manage to access your private posts, you could still find yourself required to disclose social media photos and posts to the other side as part of the claim process.
Avoiding the social media trap during a personal injury claim
If you have an accident or suffer an injury you might wish to consider avoiding all use of social media until your claim is settled.
If, you do continue to use social media during your claim, you should be very careful about what you post.
Avoid posting information, photos and comments about your accident or injury.
Information about your accident, your injury, your recovery and your losses is confidential information which should be discussed with your solicitor. Posting this information on your social media pages effectively gives the opponent insurance company access to personal and confidential information in a way that could prejudice your claim.
If details of your accident are posted online by another source, for instance, in a newspaper report, do not comment or respond to the post.
Turn your social media accounts to ‘private’ and don’t accept connection requests from people you don’t know.
Remember, others can take screenshot copies of your posts and comments. These could be used as evidence long after you have deleted a post.
Keep your solicitor informed. If you have posted something on your social media pages which you think could be misconstrued or used against you in some way, take a copy of the post and tell your solicitor about it. If your solicitor is aware of any potentially damaging posts they may be able to take appropriate action to mitigate any negative impact.
What to read next: 12 Things To Know Before Making a Personal Injury Claim
What to do next: request a free consultation about your personal injury claim. Call us on freephone 0800 731 5434 or contact us online