High tech fishing expedition?

Insurance Companies & Plaintiff Facebook Photos – an Argument that Never Ends.

Car accident victims often face an uphill battle when seeking compensation for their injuries. As specialists representing car accident victims we try our best to place our clients injuries within a realistic range of compensation – and then advocate to get our clients into the higher end of the range. Contrarily, insurance companies advocate that the particular car accident victim’s injuries should be assessed in a lower range of compensation. Insurers often advocate that a plaintiff’s injuries may not seem as serious as the victim explains and that the victim does not suffer from a substantial  loss of enjoyment of life. One of the ways insurers do this is to try to often access (by direct access or by undertaking) a plaintiff’s Facebook profile or Facebook photos.

dislike facebook stampIn the recent case of Garacci vs. Ross the insurance company sought production of approximately 1100 photos located on the private portion of a car accident victim’s facebook profile. The plaintiff, Christina, was hit by a car while walking in January 2008. As a result she claimed compensation for serious injuries she sustained her left leg and ankle including a fracture to the ankle.

During her discovery (which is a questioning period under oath – but not in court) the car accident victim told the insurer for the driver that the accident had prevented her from enjoying her life and activities that she previously did before she was hurt. For example, after the accident she was unable to pursue activities such as soccer, waterskiing, competitive dancing and snowboarding. Her recreational and social life was affected. With this, she did not claim that she was totally disabled and did say that she went swimming at her cottage, she went to the gym, she traveled to Mexico and attended concerts.

The insurance company requested photographs that they believe were relevant to the issue of Christina’s loss of enjoyment of life. They argued to the judge that there was about 12 photos of Christina found on her public Facebook profile which showed her socializing with friends, having dinner and drinks, kneeling on the ground, climbing a tree and wrestling a friend to the ground. It was argued that if these pictures were available to the public that there must be other similar photographs depicting Christina doing some of these activities and the other 1100 pictures.

The judge found that the public photographs really didn’t show the car accident victim engaging in any kind of significant physical activity. The judge said that for the most part, Christina appeared to be simply socializing with friends and having a good time. The photos were consistent with her evidence. The judge degree with the insurance company that there may be some relevance to any of Christina’s private photographs that she engaged in significant physical activity, especially of the nature she says she is unable to enjoy. However, the judge also noted that Christina’s law firm reviewed all 1100 photos and there was nothing showing any type of physical activity. In addition, the judge reviewed approximately 10% of the 1100 photographs sought by the insurance company and he also confirmed that none of those photographs depicted Christina engaging in any significant physical activity.  The judge noted that some photos showed Christina socializing with friends, sitting in chairs, fishing, pumping gas, having a beer at a party and other low impact activities. Most of the photos are from the waist up.

It was found by the court that the request by the insurance company amounted to nothing more than a “high tech fishing expedition” and that in his view they simply wanted to rummage through 1100 personal photos to see if something turned up. This was not an appropriate or proportional form of discovery.

 

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