In January of 2015, the Florida State Court of Appeals delivered a ruling that may prove to be a landmark. Within the context of a personal injury case, the court ruled that social media posts made by the plaintiff were discoverable even though maximum privacy settings were used.
The plaintiff was shopping at a Florida Target store when she allegedly suffered a serious slip and fall. She claimed that her ability to enjoy life was forever diminished. Moreover, she was asking the corporation to compensate her for lost earnings. In the course of the lawsuit, lawyers for Target attempted to review the plaintiff’s Facebook account. She had set her privacy settings at the highest standard. Nonetheless, attorneys could see that she had posted more than 1,000 photographs since the time of her injury.
Attorneys for Target filed discovery demands with the plaintiff’s attorney, seeking an opportunity to view the photographs. The plaintiff objected, believing that such discovery violated her rights to privacy. The court of appeals did not agree.
Judges at the court released an 11 page opinion regarding their decision to allow discovery of the social media photographs. They argued that the images might be “powerfully relevant to the damage issues in the lawsuit.” Moreover, they argued that, “there is no better portrayal of what an individual’s life was like than those photographs the individual has chosen to share through social media.” In the court’s decision, it was also pointed out that even the owners of Facebook make no guarantees regarding the privacy of its users. In fact, it is possible for friends on the social media website to copy images and redistribute them however they wish. Accordingly, the plaintiff cannot expect to keep those pictures private in the face of a discovery demand.
This particular personal injury matter is still pending in the Florida court system. However, this ruling by the appeals court sets a powerful precedent for all civil and criminal matters in Florida going forward. It will likely become easier than ever for attorneys to gain access to social media accounts as they conduct legal research.