Many people regularly use social media, such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube and/or Twitter. It can be a fun way to connect with others and share information.
Although social media has many benefits, it can complicate the lives of individuals who are involved in personal injury (“PI”), workers’ compensation (“WC”), Social Security Disability (“SSD”) and/or employment (“EMP”) cases.
PI Cases and Social Media:
Insurance companies and lawyers routinely check social media posts by “adverse” parties. They will research not only the posts of these parties but posts of their friends and family too.
Social media posts are used to impeach a plaintiff’s credibility and/or demonstrate a defendant’s wrongdoing. In addition, posts may be used to increase or decrease the potential damages in a PI lawsuit. For example, if a plaintiff alleges a serious back injury, but posts pictures on social media doing extensive construction on their home, it may negatively impact their credibility and value of their case.
WC Cases and Social Media:
Injured workers violate Section 114-a (1) of the New York Workers’ Compensation Law (“WCL”) if for the purpose of obtaining compensation…or for the purpose of influencing any determination regarding such payment, [they] knowingly makes a false statement or representation as to a material fact, such person shall be disqualified from receiving any compensation directly attributable to such false statement or misrepresentation.
WC carriers regularly monitor social media sites looking for inconsistencies so that they can raise violations of WCL Section 114-a (1). Examples of such inconsistencies include working or doing volunteer work without notifying the carrier, disregarding the restrictions imposed by your doctor or failing to disclose prior similar injuries.
SSD Cases and Social Media:
The Office of the Inspector General of the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) has a toll-free hotline where fraud can be reported (1-800-269-0271). In addition, SSA has centralized Fraud Prevention Units and a Cooperative Disability Investigation program that analyze data and investigate suspicious or questionable claims.
If you apply for or are collecting SSD–and post something on social media that reflects you are not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act or are violating the law–you may be reported by anyone who views your social media pages or investigated by the above entities. In addition, if you are found guilty of Social Security fraud, you could face administrative sanctions, civil penalties and/or criminal charges and restitution.
EMP Cases and Social Media:
Social media posts can be used in EMP cases much like they are used PI cases. The plaintiff/charging party’s potential damages may be negatively impacted by what they post on social media. Moreover, their credibility may come into question.
For example, plaintiffs/charging parties have a duty to mitigate damages in EMP case. So, if they do not look for other work, are unable to work due to a disability or fail to disclose wages earned from a new job, it can harm the value of their case and discredit them. Social media pages will be scrutinized to look for any inconsistencies.
How to Protect Yourself:
To protect yourself, be very careful about what you post on social media. Make sure employees who handle their employer’s social media sites are cautioned about what they post too. In addition, use the highest possible security settings for personal social media sites, so that what you post is not readily available to the public. Finally, ask your family/friends to refrain from posting personal information about you on their social media pages.
If you accidentally post something that could look unfavorable, there is the option to take the post down or delete it. However, nothing is ever permanently deleted from the Internet, so it still may be accessible. Also, if anyone “shared” your post, it will remain available. Moreover, if you are asked about the post and are not honest, it could have very negative implications on your credibility and harm your case(s).