Can social media posts affect a lawsuit?
Posted in Personal Injury on November 11, 2021
Many are already aware of the impact social media can have on relationships, careers, and even politics, but knowing how your online engagement can affect a potential lawsuit may surprise you. Social media posts may be used as evidence to disprove an injury claim, discredit a witness, or disqualify a juror.
On the other hand, images or videos shared from social platforms have been influential in cases with a global spotlight and can even act as an alibi for suspects. We’re highlighting some recent and historic examples to help describe the varying influence social media can have on lawsuits.
The killing of Ahmaud Arbery’s trial
Backstory: The trial of the men who shot and killed Ahmaud Arbery in February 2020 has been underway since the start of November in Brunswick, Ga. and made headlines when the jury selection was completed. 11 of the 12 jury members selected were White and 1 was Black. Even after the judge admitted that “there appears to be intentional discrimination in the panel” he also said he didn’t have the ability to change the jury’s racial makeup because defense attorneys gave nonracial reasons for striking potential Black jurors.
According to the defense lawyer, many of the Black jury candidates had already either seen the tragic video of McMichaels killing Arbery, or made mention of the incident on their social media accounts. Given the global Black Lives Matter movement and protests related to not only Arbery, but George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Rayshard Brooks’ deaths–all in the first half of 2020–it would be hard to find anyone who didn’t at least react online to news stories related to these killings, even if they did not watch the viral video of Arbery’s death.
What’s happening in this case further proves why it’s hard for Black people to have confidence in the legal system. In our first podcast episode, attorney Rod Dixon talks about how the 2020 protests affected him, and what it means to recognize justice in the African American community.
Liking is Free Speech
More backstory: In 2014 the case of Bland v. Roberts, employees of a Sheriff’s department were fired for liking an opposing politicians’ content on Facebook. The initial trial ruled in favor of the Sheriff, stating that liking something on social media did not amount to the protected First Amendment right of speech. However, the Court of Appeals reversed the decision, indicating that clicking “Like” on Facebook basically equates to a person saying “I like this” or “I support this,” and so Likes are speech and constitutionally protected by the First Amendment.
Wow! That may or may not give you a feeling of confidence about how you engage on social media going forward, right? While your social media engagement is protected by freedom of speech, it can still result in consequences from your employer, community, or as many saw in the previous year, friends and family.
Social Media Posts Are Evidence
Let’s shift gears to how it could ultimately affect a personal injury case. When we accept new clients we go through a Discovery period where the client will answer a list of questions related to their incident. One question that gets the most hesitation is whether or not the client has any active social media or video platform accounts. It’s important because both your lawyer and the defense lawyer will be looking to make sure the injury, suffering, or hardship you’re claiming is not contrary to the imagery you’re presenting on social media after your incident.
For example: if you were in an accident and claim serious, debilitating injuries, you aren’t posting photos out dancing, skating, or taking gym selfies. Another example is claiming that an incident caused you to be out of work and lose wages, then making videos about large purchases, vacations, or even talking about how you’re working from home. Yes, all of those can be used by the defense attorney to disprove your claim, so it’s important for your own lawyer to review them first.
Don’t Delete Your Posts
It’s also very important to mention that if you’ve made posts like that after your incident–DO NOT DELETE THE POSTS! That can be seen as removing evidence, causing even more problems. In the 2013 case of Lester v. Allied Concrete, a cement truck crossed over the center line and hit a married couple’s car, killing the wife. The court tried to significantly reduce surviving husband’s award by over $4 million after finding out how his attorney told him to “clean up” his social media account.
The images Lester deleted did not even have to show evidence contrary to his claim or related to the accident at all, but defense attorneys found a way to make this a focus, when it didn’t necessarily have to be. Even the lawyer had to pay $700,000 in fines! The Supreme Court later awarded a larger amount to the widower of the accident, however it took much more time and effort in court than necessary.
These are just a few examples as to why sharing your social media accounts with your lawyer is important. After you file a claim, it’s a good idea to limit your social media activity until the case is completed.
Informative and Emotional
You may be wondering how social media can be GOOD from a legal standpoint. Even if watching or resharing a traumatic video on social media could affect your ability to be a juror, this imagery can be used in court as compelling, emotional evidence for those who are on the jury. As Rod mentioned in the case of the $7M texting while driving episode, “it’s about what your eyes are telling you.” Sharing imagery of injustice on social media does cause most people to form opinions immediately, but it also brings awareness to such injustices and can push policies and action from the law.
Social media is also a great place to stay informed, especially with more digital accounts that highlight hyper-local, unfiltered news coverage (shoutout to ATL Scoop and GA Followers). We’re newly on TikTok and have already had comments and DMs with very good legal questions regarding our own cases or current events.
Respect the Accounts of Victims
Social media is great for getting details about new and historic court cases. True crime shows are all the rage right now, however it’s important to respect the privacy of those who’ve been involved with traumatic court cases, whether an injury or criminal case. Most case details are accessible through news articles, forums, and public records these days, but those involved with the case, including lawyers, victims, and family members, may either be legally prohibited from discussing the case post-trial or could be overcoming trauma related to the incident.
We saw a spike in visitors to our website and on YouTube last month due to searches relating to a previous sexual assault case of ours. While we appreciate the traffic and everyone’s interest in the outcome of this case, we sometimes have to keep details of the case confidential. That’s one reason why when we discuss our past cases we may omit names and dates to protect our clients and ourselves.
Connect with The Dixon Firm
If you actively use social media, we encourage you to use it as a tool for learning, and seeking justice, and supporting your community. We also encourage you to follow us @dixonfirm on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and now TikTok. Tag us with questions or if you see injustice online. You can also call us at 888-DIXON-11 for case consultations or referrals.