The New York State Court of Appeals recently ruled that information from an injury victim’s private Facebook account can be treated as information used in a legal action and, as such, the victim may have to offer that information to the opposing party in court.
On June 20, 2011, the plaintiff was riding a horse at a Long Island park when a strap attached to the stirrup on the saddle broke off, causing her to lose her balance and fall off the animal. Among the injuries she allegedly suffered include traumatic brain injury and spinal injuries; these injuries, she said, resulted in memory loss, cognitive impairments, lack of concentration, difficulty communicating and social isolation, which negatively impacted her daily life. She also accused the defendant, the horse’s owner, of negligence, claiming he did not properly prepare the horse for riding and the equipment on her horse was defective. Five months after the incident, the plaintiff commenced the action.
At the deposition, the plaintiff said she posted photographs and messages on her private Facebook account describing what happened and the injuries she suffered. She said she maintained that account even before the accident, posting photographs of her taking part in recreational activities, but she deactivated the account sometime between June and August 2012 (twelve to 14 months after the accident). She claimed that, due to her memory loss, she was unable to remember the extent of her Facebook activity from the date of the accident to the date she deactivated her account.
The defendant sought full, unlimited access to her private Facebook posts, claiming it was relevant to his case and to determine the plaintiff’s credibility. The state Supreme Court allowed the defendant partial access to the plaintiff’s nonpublic posts, including photographs before and after the accident, but the Appellate Division limited the defendant’s access to photographs and messages the plaintiff intended to use at trial.
On February 13, 2018, New York Court of Appeals Chief Judge Janet DiFiore struck down the Appellate Court’s decision, allowing the defendant unlimited access to the plaintiff’s Facebook account. The judge wrote in her decision that the account holder cannot decide what information could be used at trial and could easily manipulate the privacy settings that could result in the defendant being unable to view the private photographs and posts deemed relevant to his case. [See Forman v Henkin, 2018 NY Slip Op 01015]
In today’s world, social media postings can play a vital part in any personal injury case. The experienced attorneys at Montfort, Healy, McGuire & Salley LLP provide thorough and effective personal injury defense for individuals, businesses, insurance companies and municipalities throughout the New York City metropolitan area and across the nation. To discuss options for personal injury defense, contact us at (800) 240-4082, or fill out our contact form here.