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Private Social Media Postings Fair Game in Personal Injury Suit

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Image by benstein on Flickr

Image by benstein on Flickr

A judge in Suffolk County, New York has ruled that a plaintiff’s private Facebook and MySpace postings are discoverable by the defendant in a personal injury claim.

The crux of Acting Justice Jeffrey Arlen Spinner’s decision is that public postings on these social media accounts “contain material that is contrary to [the plaintiff's] claims and deposition testimony”; accordingly, the judge reasoned, “there is a reasonable likelihood that the private portions of her sites may contain further evidence such as information with regard to her activities and enjoyment of life, all of which are material and relevant to the defense of this action.”

Kathleen Romano sued Steelcase Inc., claiming “serious permanent personal injuries” sustained after falling off an allegedly defective desk chair while working at Stony Brook University. Romano says she had herniated disks, limited movement in her back and neck, has undergone multiple surgeries, and has “pain and progressive deterioration with consequential loss of enjoyment of life.”

Steelcase, however, claimed that the public portions of Romano’s Facebook and MySpace pages ”reveal that she has an active lifestyle and can travel and apparently engages in many other physical activities inconsistent with her claims in this litigation.” One photograph, according to the defendant, shows Romano “smiling happily in a photograph outside the confines of her home despite her claim that she . . . is largely confined to her house and bed.”

And so began the legal battle for discovery of plaintiff’s private postings that the defendant argued could further contradict Romano’s claims.

The judge noted that not allowing defendant access to the private postings “not only would go against the liberal discovery policies of New York favoring pretrial disclosure, but would condone Plaintiff’s attempt to hide relevant information behind self-regulated privacy settings.”

What do you think? Should social media postings set to private always remain private or are there some circumstances in which they can be discoverable in a court case? Is this such a circumstance?

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September 30th, 2010 at 9:53 am