How Your Facebook Page Can Harm You
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. But the wrong picture or posting or update on your Facebook page could cost you a lot more than that if you're not careful. The insurance industry has added a new weapon to its arsenal of ways to deny claims of insureds and injured third parties. Adjusters and insurance industry lawyers have learned that combing the Facebook page and other social media sites of a claimant may reveal photos or statements that can be used to embarrass a claimant and weaken that person's case.
In the case of Nathalie Blanchard of Quebec, photos she posted on her Facebook page showing her at the beach and in a pub were used by her insurer to discontinue disability benefits she had been receiving during a medical leave from work for depression. Their argument? If she was well enough to be playing at the beach and going to a pub, she was well enough to work. Then there's the case of Kurt Norland who posted photos on his Facebook page showing him at the beach with his buddies. When those photos were discovered by his workers comp insurance company, his payments and medical benefits were immediately cutoff and he had to delay the surgery he had scheduled to repair his shoulder injured on the job. His insurer believed he was faking his shoulder injury and committing insurance fraud.
What the insurer's knee-jerk reaction ignores, however, is that a Facebook posting does not represent the totality of the poster's circumstances. We all want to present ourselves in the best light. You would hardly expect, for example, Ms. Blanchard to post a photo of herself crying in a dark room by herself, even if this is what she was doing 18 hours per day. Mr. Nordland's beach photo didn't reflect the pain he may have been in or the heavy medication he may have been on that were necessary to his being out on the beach that day.
All users of social media should take note of this growing trend. Not only are insurers looking for reasons to deny claims, but employers are looking for flaws in otherwise qualified applicants and lawyers are looking to discredit witnesses. Oftentimes, we may think a photo or posting is harmless. We may have old photos or say something in jest. But insurance companies and others will use it all. Photos or postings may be used to paint the poster in a bad light and weaken or destroy their case or damage their credibility or chances of securing a job.
We at Dixon Law have been confronted with this issue a number of times. We have had defense attorneys and insurance adjusters attack our clients and witnesses based on pictures and postings that were posted on social media sites. Everyone needs to understand that these postings, though intended for viewing by your family and friends, may be mined by people who do not have your best interests at heart. The best step social media users can take to protect their information is to adjust their privacy settings so that only designated friends can view photos or updates you have posted. Taking control over your privacy settings is the best way of preventing unintended consequences of your postings.
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