Acting Justice Jeffrey Arlen Spinner has ruled that a plaintiff must give a defendant access to private postings from two social networking sites that could contradict claims she made in a personal injury action.
The action stems from an injury sustained by Kathleen Romano when she fell off an allegedly defective desk chair. She claimed to have sustained “serious permanent personal injuries,” causing her to undergo multiple surgeries. She brought action against Steelcase Inc., the manufacturer of the chair, as well as the distributor of the chair. Romano claimed injuries including herniated discs, restricted motion in her neck and back, and "pain and progressive deterioration with consequential loss of enjoyment of life."
Steelcase served Romano with a notice for discovery requesting full access to current and deleted records on her Facebook and MySpace pages. Romano refused to give the authorizations, and Steelcase responded by filing a motion to compel with the court. Steelcase supports their motion with Romano’s public content, which contains photos of Romano smiling happily outside her home despite her claim of being confined to her house and bed. Romano claims that the request and motion violate her privacy rights.
Judge Spinner disagreed that turning over the records requested was a violation of Romano’s privacy rights. In his ruling in favor of Steelcase, he states that the discovery request is valid “with respect to materials that may be relevant both to the issue of damages and the extent of a plaintiff's injury.” The judge also stated that it was “reasonable to infer from the limited postings on Plaintiff's public Facebook and MySpace profile pages, that her private pages may contain materials and information that are relevant to her claims or that may lead to the disclosure of admissible evidence.”
My Two Cents:
So what does this mean for WC claims? If a plaintiff’s social media profile contains photos in his or her public content that could be construed as contrary to his or her claims, that could open the door to the plaintiff’s private content. What a plaintiff puts online, no matter what the “privacy settings” on the account are, could be opened up to the defense and used in defense of the claim.