When you become involved in a lawsuit, few things that are related to the suit can be protected from disclosure. Even private conversations, tweets, postings, and other digital media like texts could be disclosed through discovery. Below is a brief introduction about discovery and some tips on using social media before, during, and after a lawsuit.
Role of Discovery in Florida
Discovery is a legal term that can be confusing to a non-attorney. In a legal sense, when we talk about discovery, we are talking about a time period after a lawsuit is filed, but before trial, when both sides make demands of each other.
During the discovery period of a lawsuit, both sides can demand that the other side turn over information related to the case and answer questions about the case. Either side can demand information no matter how it is stored. That means you can be called to testify in a deposition, prior to trial and to answer questions about what you know. You can be forced to turn over papers, emails, texts, and other data that is related to the case, and you can even be compelled to turn over photographs, videos, or recordings if they are related to the case.
This power of discovery is broad, and attorneys use it to their client’s advantage in every case. There are rules that limit what a person must disclose during the discovery phase of a trial, but those rules are liberally interpreted to force people to turn over information. The reason this power is so broad is so that as much information about a case is revealed prior to trial so that both sides can know exactly what their positions are in a case. This influences settlement negotiations and creates the pool of facts that will be presented at a trial.
Fourth District Court of Appeals on Social Media and Discovery
In a recently decided case out of the Fourth District Court of Appeals in Florida, an accident victim wanted to protect her privacy by not turning over certain photos from her Facebook account. In this case, the woman had sued a well-known retail store when she was injured after slipping and falling on what she claimed to be a foreign substance at the store.
When the store’s attorney began to investigate the case more, he noticed something about the woman’s social media accounts. Prior to deposing the victim in the case, the lawyer looked at her Facebook account, and saw that it had 1,285 photos, and she refused to produce the photos at the deposition. After the deposition, the lawyer looked at her account again and noticed that it had 1,249 photos, indicating that some photos had been deleted. At this point the lawyer asked the court to compel that all the photos, included those that were deleted, be produced. The victim’s refusal was based on her argument that production of the photos constituted a violation of her right to privacy.
In its ruling, the court disagreed with the victim and compelled her to turn over the photos. The court based its decision on four factors:
There was no invasion of privacy by asking her to turn over the photos.
The scope of discovery is very broad in Florida.
The photos were highly relevant to the case at hand.
There is a limited right to privacy with photos that are posted on a social media website.
Using these four factors, the court forced the victim to produce the photos and hand them over to the other side.
A Word on Social Media Sites
This case should serve as a lesson to anyone who is the victim of an accident. If you are a victim of an accident, be careful of what you post on your social media accounts. No matter what you post, even if you think it is private, it may come out in your case, and the other side’s attorneys will do everything they can to ensure that whatever you post is seen in the worst light possible.
Finally, if you have been injured in an accident, contact us. At The Pittman Firm we represent and fight on behalf of victims. Our top-notch team will evaluate your case and provide you with your legal options.