Business vs. Emotion: A Dilemma Plaguing Attorneys

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Group of people on stairs in Pinellas, FLIn recent months and years, there has been a lot of talk in Saint Petersburg and beyond regarding the usefulness of social media in the courtroom. Without thinking, people will often post incriminating evidence in the form of statements, pictures, or videos on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or other such social media forums. Of course, as we have warned the public many times, anything that you post in these public arenas can be used against you in the courtroom if applicable to the case.

However, new questions are starting to arise regarding how far judges, juries, and attorneys can look into the happenings online. Is it fair to broadcast the comments made or pictures posted by a user unrelated to the case?

This query was recently raised by the masses after an article in the New York Law Journal brought light to the topic business versus emotion in lawyers. Though the article was not specifically directed at the topic of social media in the courtroom, the general concerns can be applied to the internet-based conversations.

The essential concern is the privacy of those unrelated to the case, but in some way capable of providing incriminating evidence against the defendant or plaintiff. In order to fully understand, let me provide an example.

Imagine that you are visiting St. Petersburg on a vacation and during your stay you are involved in a car accident that leaves you a victim of whiplash. The other driver, who cut in front of you while trying to beat a red light, is obviously at fault and you are left to suffer through x-rays, MRIs, physical therapy, and other such treatment plans. So, you go on to hire a personal injury attorney to assist you in filing a lawsuit against the negligent party.

In the meantime, you discover that a friend of yours who had joined you on the vacation had posted a picture of you taking a shot of alcohol on the night that the accident occurred. Privacy settings make it visible only to friends of that person, but the opposing attorney would obviously love to get his or her hands on that evidence, which might suggest that, at the very least, you must share the responsibility for the accident with the other party. Even if it was the only beverage you consumed that evening, if that picture is allowed as evidence, it could mean a significantly smaller amount of damages awarded or, at the very least, a longer more drawn out search for evidence.

Is it fair for the courts to request that your friend hand over the evidence? That is the question being asked by people all over the country. Even if you are obsessively careful about what you write and post about the accident that you are involved in, you may also be subject to whatever your friends and family post. Currently, laws are not overly clear on how much of that evidence can be taken from the web.

Until the laws are rewritten to contend with the ever-changing social environment, it is important to consider how every post, picture, or video shared by you, a friend, or family member may impact your personal injury case. Proving your own innocence and the negligence of the other party may become more difficult as a result of social media and that is something that you and your attorney should discuss before filing a lawsuit.