Decades ago suspicious employers doubting disability claims would send out private investigators to surreptitiously photograph a claimant mowing the lawn or practicing golf strokes. Today it’s just a matter of asking for access to social media sites like:

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • eBay
  • Tumblr
  • Instagram

At least according to a magistrate in federal district court in Newark, N.J.

A baggage handler who was struck by an airplane stairway claimed permanent disability. He sued the airline and the owner of the stairway. The case ended up in federal court. As part of discovery, the pretrial proceedings that permit each side to review evidence that may be used at any subsequent trial, the defendants asked for documents or records of "wall posts, comments, status updates or personal information posted or made by Plaintiff on Facebook and/or any social media website.”

While wrangling over how the defendants would get access to his Facebook account, through a new shared password or directly from Facebook, the plaintiff baggage handler deactivated his Facebook account, which led to it being permanently deleted. All of the postings were lost.

The federal court magistrate sanctioned the plaintiff baggage handler for spoliation of evidence. All parties to a law suit are under an obligation to preserve all evidence they might have. This intentional deletion of the Facebook account, and subsequent loss of all of the postings, destroyed evidence that might have revealed that the plaintiff was physically active or somehow gainfully employed. The magistrate ruled that in any trial, the jury would be instructed that the plaintiff had destroyed potential evidence.

The rules of litigation are daunting and somewhat complicated. When seeking advice on your personal injury claim, retain experienced counsel who knows how to prepare clients to act appropriately throughout the litigation process.