What you Tweet can and will be used against you in a court of law.
That’s what insurance attorneys are saying when it comes to social networking and car accidents: By no means should you be Facebooking, Instagramming, Pinteresting, LinkedIn-ing or otherwise socially broadcasting details at the scene of the accident.
"Checking social media accounts has become one of the first things an insurance company or adjuster will do when you file a claim," Frank Darras, an insurance attorney in Ontario, Calif., told the automotive information and pricing provider Edmunds.com in an interview published last week.
Darras and other lawyers who represent people fighting insurance companies who deny claims say that in recent years it has become an industry standard for claims adjustors to sift through publicly available content of their customers, seeking out any information that might build a case for them to deny claims or lower payouts.
In some cases the claims adjustors find outright fraud based on Facebook or Twitter posts that contradict details given on claims reports. For example, someone might file a hit-and-run with the insurer but then post contradictory details on Facebook admitting fault.
But insurers go even further. They scour claimants’ social networks for clues to driving habits. Post a ton of drifting videos on your profile? It could hint that you’re a fan of reckless driving. Post on Foursquare a photo of yourself in a bar parking lot, it could suggest a penchant for drinking and driving. Even bad reviews on eBay could provide hints about the type of person you are.
While a lot of this content doesn’t necessarily provide definitive proof of insurance fraud, the material can be used in court in the event of a legal battle, especially in cases involving personal injury.
Jaclyn S. Millner, an attorney at Fitch, Johnson, Larson & Held, P.A., and Gregory M. Duhl, associate professor of law at the William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, Minn., pointed out to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners in a report last year that investigating social networking content that's not protected with privacy settings is not considered an ethical breach.
Furthermore, while ethical codes prevent attorneys and their investigators from clandestine “friending” of targets in order to access content protected by privacy settings, these ethical codes do not extend to investigators not hired by attorneys or by insurance companies themselves. As long as attorneys representing insurance companies do not instruct non-attorney investigators to try to access private content by successfully initiating contact with the target, then any content behind privacy settings may be used in any legal proceedings.
Because of employers' increased scrutiny of social networks, people have started managing their public profiles more carefully. Now that insurance claims adjustors are making it standard operating procedure to scour the Web for reasons to deny claims, people have more reason to be more discreet with the content they share.