Once the province of teenagers, social media websites have become a prominent form of communication with distant loved ones and friends. Although websites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Myspace and others provide a way to let people know what is going on in your life, the information and photos on social media sites can undermine a legitimate insurance claim.
Because insurance carriers now routinely troll social media pages for information that will justify application of a policy exclusion or limit the value of an insurance claim, policyholders must be extremely cautious about the nature of the content they post on social media pages. Many unsuspecting people presume that personal information is kept safe behind passwords in restricted areas of Facebook and similar internet sites. However, these half measures offer little or no protection if you become embroiled in litigation with your insurance carrier.
Insurance companies often submit broad discovery requests for information posted on social media websites when they are processing a claim. It can be difficult to anticipate the types of information or pictures that might compromise a policyholder’s claim. Photos posted of a family gathering in front of the family home might depict rusted pipes that give rise to a claim of negligent maintenance. Similarly, an insurance carrier might use pictures of you rearranging boxes in your garage if you are submitting an insurance claim based on a back injury against your uninsured motorist (UM) coverage or a long-term disability policy.
Because the widespread popularity of social media is a recently new phenomenon, courts are still finding their way in terms of determining the rights of parties in litigation to obtain access to information that has been hidden in password protected areas. Generally, information posted on the public areas of Facebook and its ilk will be fair game in litigation. The issue is more complex when insurance companies seek information in areas of social media sites that are protected by security features, such as the need to login with a password. Hacks of celebrity websites that have resulted in the release of intimate photos demonstrate the legitimate expectation that users of these websites have that private and sensitive information will be protected.
If you have social media sites, you should take some precautions to protect your insurance claim until it has been completely settled:
Get Legal Advice from a Florida Insurance Lawyer: Before you post anything new on your social media page, you should speak to an attorney with experience handling insurance claims. The attorney can analyze your case and provide legal advice regarding the specific risks of continuing to post on your page. Depending on the circumstances, the attorney might even advise you to pull your page down entirely. At the very least, you should be extremely cautious if people that you do not know suddenly try to communicate with you through chat or email.
Deactivate Your Page: Generally, the best policy is to simply pull your social media pages down until your insurance claim has been resolved. However, there can be negative consequences for taking such a step if the insurer has requested access to information on your Facebook page prior to you deactivating your site. This means you should speak with an attorney as early in the process as possible to determine your best approach.
Part I of this blog post has provided a general overview of the relationship between social media websites and insurance claims litigation. The second part of this blog post provides an overview of the diverse approaches taken by courts to discovery requests involving social media.
If you have questions about Florida insurance claims, you are welcome to contact my Miami insurance claims dispute law firm. My law firm represents policyholders in claims disputes in Miami and throughout Florida. The Law Firm of J.P. Gonzalez-Sirgo, P.A. offers free consultations and case evaluations. No Recovery, No Lawyer Fees. Call 305-461-1095 or Toll Free 1-866-71-CLAIM.