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Tinkering with Facebook Account Costs Plaintiff and His Attorney More Than $700,000

Personal injury attorneys have been advising clients that anything posted on social media sites such as Facebook or Twitter is not private and may hurt a case even if the client had limited who could access the posts. Anything posted on Facebook could be used in a case. Similarly, anything removed from Facebook, depending on when it was taken off, might hurt a case.

 

Clayton County personal injury attorney Shane Smith can advise on the best ways to handle social media during litigation.

 

A Virginia court fined a wrongful death plaintiff and his attorney $722,000 after the plaintiff removed a photo from his Facebook page during his case in an effort to hide or suppress it. The plaintiff and his in-laws had received a $10.6 million jury verdict in a claim against a concrete company and one of its drivers after a cement truck flipped and rolled onto the plaintiff's wife's car.

 

According to the judge, plaintiff's attorney received a discovery request for the contents of the plaintiff's Facebook account. Opposing counsel included a photo of the plaintiff wearing a shirt that read "I [heart] hot moms" while he held a beer with some young people. The plaintiff's attorney perhaps was afraid the photo and potentially others on his client's Facebook and MySpace pages would prejudice the client's case. The attorney told a paralegal to have the plaintiff "clean up" his Facebook profile because "we don't want blowups of other pics at trial." The paralegal wrote the instruction verbatim in an e-mail to the plaintiff.

 

The attorney, possibly fearful that the Facebook page would hurt the case, further instructed the plaintiff to deactivate his Facebook account so he could "honestly" sign an affidavit that he had no account. The attorney instructed the plaintiff to reactivate the account when opposing counsel filed a motion to compel. Despite this, the plaintiff denied ever having deactivated his Facebook page.

 

In an effort to hide the incriminating photo (it could have been used to make the argument that the plaintiff could not have too distraught if he was seen partying and wearing a shirt with a flirtatious message), the plaintiff and his attorney were caught breaking the law. They attempted to hide and destroy evidence and were subsequently sanctioned by the judge.

 

The plaintiff was sanctioned $180,000 for his wrongdoing. The judge sanctioned the attorney $542,000 and the attorney was subsequently fired by his law firm and reportedly is no longer practicing law.

 

If you or someone you know has been hurt in a Clayton County auto accident, meet with a Clayton County auto accident lawyer at the Law Offices of Shane Smith by calling (770) 487-8999. We can assist you in every stage of your case including giving advice about safe social media use.


Shane Smith
Advocate for the Seriously Injured in Georgia