The Power Of Social Media
Lawyers are increasingly using social media sites to help their clients’ cases and catch out people who may not be telling the truth. It seems that while people are very secretive about their indiscretions in public, they are far from shy when it comes to talking about them online.
We have just had a case where my client was injured and suffered vehicle damage as a result of a road traffic collision. He said that the accident was the other driver’s fault, but there were no independent witnesses. The other driver held my client responsible for the accident. He gave a different version of events and said that he had an independent witness to back him up. We got the independent witnesses’ version of events, but a number of things made us suspicious of the evidence provided.
In a case like this, with one person’s word against the other, liability is usually settled 50/50 i.e. each party takes 50% of the blame. My client was very reasonable and, despite being adamant the accident was not his fault, he was prepared to settle on that basis. The other driver refused and insisted he had an independent witness who supported him.
We were left with no option but to issue legal proceedings and go to court to let a judge decide who was right. However, our suspicions about the witness mounted and we decided to search Facebook. Sure enough, despite only looking at publicly available information, I was able to establish that the Defendant and the supposedly independent witness were friends on Facebook, they shared a number of mutual friends and were members of the same Facebook social group.
When confronted with this evidence, the other driver withdrew his case. His credibility was destroyed and he risked criminal sanctions if he went to court. Our client won his claim in full and ended up better off than if the other driver had not fabricated a witness.
All of the information found was publicly available, but some solicitors who are defending claims that they consider to be fraudulent are going even further. In a reported case where the insurance company thought a crash was staged and the parties knew each other, the solicitors for the insurance created fake Facebook profiles to send friend requests to the suspects and find out more private information. In that case a judge allowed the evidence they gathered to be heard in court, because the fraud it uncovered outweighed the deception and breach of privacy to get the information in the first place.
There are numerous cases of insurers using social media to try to prove that people aren’t as badly injured as they say (for example with status updates that injured people have been partying or even on skiing holidays), or to prove that they have been working when they claim they are unable to.
Earlier this year a woman who claimed she couldn’t walk the length of a car was caught out when she posted a picture of herself on Facebook as she walked along the Great Wall of China.
There have even been cases of people being caught out because they have used social media platforms to brag about committing crimes.
Who remembers the case of 22-year-old Emma Way, the girl that took to Twitter to brag that she’d knocked a cyclist off his bike? She attempted to justify her acts by saying she had “right of way” and that the cyclist “didn’t pay road tax”.
Miss Way’s stupidity led to her being ridiculed by the national press and she was ultimately given seven points on her licence, fined £337 and ordered to pay a further £300 in costs. Later she added that her tweet was a spur of the moment thing that she deeply regretted.
Obviously, people who are committing fraud and other crimes deserve to be caught, but it is a useful reminder – you must be careful what you put on Facebook or other social media. Things that you think are just for friends, could end up more public than you want.
If you have a case to fight, it pays to use a solicitor whose computer literacy goes beyond being able to send emails. In this day and age, choosing a legal firm that understands the complex world of social media is of the utmost importance. They will be able to access profiles that you are unable to and gather evidence that can be used in court.
Many people do not even understand how data from the internet has to be gathered in order for it become admissible so it is best to make sure you select a lawyer that does. It really could be the difference in your case.