COLUMN: Are you spying on yourself?

The risks of revealing too much personal information on social media websites has been well documented...

“Loose lips sink ships.”

Although the phrase was first uttered many years ago in reference to wartime strategies, the old cliché has considerable relevance to lawsuits in the modern era of Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

The risks of revealing too much personal information on social media websites has been well documented.

It could be the cause of significant embarrassment at your next family reunion, or worse yet, it could cost you your job. Family members and prospective employers are not the only ones, however, who may have an interest in seeing what you post online. If you find yourself involved in some sort of litigation, you can be sure the lawyer on the other side will be thoroughly investigating your online presence.

In a 2009 decision, a B.C. woman had claimed that she could no longer engage in outdoor activities as a result of injuries sustained in a motor vehicle accident.  The woman was seeking $40,000 for her “pain and suffering,” but was ultimately only awarded $3,500. The reason? The opposing lawyer in her case had uncovered Facebook photos of her that showed her doing the very things she claimed she could no longer do – hiking and bicycling!

As an extreme example, a plaintiff rolled his own vehicle on a rural road. Because he was banned from driving at that time, he convinced a friend to claim that she was the driver in order to ensure the accident was covered by ICBC.

However, the claimant later bragged on his Facebook page that he had been drinking and driving with a suspended licence, rolled his own vehicle, and received a big payout from ICBC.

Needless to say, when this was discovered the plaintiff was required to pay back the award he received and is now facing criminal charges.

Now, if you’re one of the many readers thinking “this cautionary tale doesn’t apply to me. I would never lie in my testimony, so posting pictures or videos couldn’t possibly hurt me,” then you need to think again.

Regardless of how truthful your testimony is, eventually we all attempt to move on with our lives after accidents.  Sometimes, this involves attempting to engage in activities our bodies are not yet physically ready to perform.

What your Facebook photo of you smiling on the dance floor at your best friend’s wedding doesn’t reveal is the painful aftermath.  As you are bedridden at home with an icepack taped to your back, cursing yourself for even attempting the funky chicken, the opposing lawyer will be using that photo to build an argument that your injuries cannot be as serious as you have claimed.

If you post information about your lawsuit on the Internet, chances are this will be revealed at trial.  In fact, in a recent B.C. decision, an injured plaintiff was required to produce the contents of his Facebook page. As such, the prudent course would be to avoid posting to social media altogether after you are in an accident. Should it be too late for that, be sure to share your online activity with your lawyer so that he or she can present those posts in the most favourable light.

 

Doug is a partner with RDM Lawyers LLP.  He practices in the areas of personal injury law and labour and employment law. Comments about this article can be sent to legalease@abbynews.com

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