Facebook Updates Fair Game In Injury Lawsuits?

A recent decision in a Jefferson County, Pennsylvania Court should provide a strong wake up call to personal injury plaintiffs who are on social network sites such as Facebook and MySpace. The case, McMIllen v. Hummingbird Speedway, Inc.,, involves a stock car racer who claimed that he was permanently injured when his car was rear ended in a stock car race in July of 2007. The defendants that he sued reviewed the public section of McMillen’s Facebook account and found that he had commented on a recent fishing trip and attendance at a Daytona 500 race. They then requested that the Court order Mr. McMillen to provide user names and passwords for his Facebook and MySpace accounts. They did this, of course, so that they could access wall posts, photos and other non-public information to determine if these entries contradicted his claims of being permanently impaired and unable to enjoy his usual activities as a result of the July, 2007 accident.

McMillen’s attorneys fought the request by the defendants, claiming that McMillen had a right to privacy with regard to his Facebook and MySpace accounts which would be violated if the Court ordered the disclosure requested by the defendants. In response, the Court reviewed what is privileged information under Pennsylvania statutes, and noted that the only inviolable privileges include those against self incrimination under the 5th Amendment of the Constitution and the attorney-client privilege. Pointedly, the Court noted that there is no “social network site privilege”. It also declared that the purpose of the social network sites is to connect with friends and meet new people, and that it would be “unrealistic to expect that [such] disclosures would be considered confidential.” Additionally, the Court reviewed the privacy policies of both Facebook and MySpace, and found that they clearly envision a scenario in which these sites would divulge information directly in response to judicial requests: For example, Facebook’s policies state that: “Users are informed that Facebook’s operators may disclose information pursuant to subpoenas, court orders, or other civil and criminal requests if they have a good faith belief that the law requires them to respond.”

In summary, the Court in McMillen ordered that the plaintiff has to provide his user name, log in and password so that the defendants’ lawyers could access his Facebook and MySpace accounts to determine if in fact he was engaging in activities which would contradict his claims of permanent injury and limitation of his previously actively lifestyle. It may have been that the fishing trip and trip to Daytona were aberrations and that Mr. McMillen is in fact permanently disabled from his July, 2007 accident. However, the moral of this story is that if you are involved in a personal injury case, the wisest course of action is to avoid posting information, photographs and other entries on your Facebook and other social media accounts which might later be used against you to contradict your claims of injury.

Contact The Westchester County Injury Lawyers online or toll free at 888-761-7633 if you are seriously injured in and accident for a free consultation with an experienced trial lawyer to discuss the facts of your case.