eDiscovery Case Law: Social Media Posts Deemed Discoverable in Personal Injury Case

By: Doug Austin

A Pennsylvania court recently ordered the plaintiff in a personal injury lawsuit to disclose social media passwords and usernames to the defendant for eDiscovery.

On May 19, the court ruled in favor of a motion to compel the plaintiff in Zimmerman v. Weis Markets, Inc., No. CV-09-1535, 2011 WL 2065410 (Pa. Comm. Pl. May 19, 2011) to disclose his usernames, login names and passwords for Facebook and MySpace accounts that contained hidden or private posts. Discoverability of social media continues to be a hot topic in eDiscovery, as eDiscovery Daily has noted in summaries of prior cases here, here and here that reflect varied outcomes for requests to access social media data.

In Zimmerman v. Weis Markets, Inc., the court ruled in favor of the defendant’s motion for several reasons involving the plaintiff’s use of public social media as well as the circumstances of the case:

  • The plaintiff’s public postings on the social media sites in question included discussion of his injury, which was deemed relevant to his claim of serious and permanent impairment. These public postings were construed by the court as sufficient to demonstrate likelihood that his non-public postings would also contain relevant information about his injury.
  • Although, the court did not wish its decision in this matter to be viewed as authorizing “fishing expeditions” to private social media accounts in personal injury cases in general, it reasoned that since examination of the public portions of the plaintiff’s Facebook and MySpace accounts turned up relevant evidence on the subject of the plaintiff’s injury, discovery of the remaining private postings was also likely to do so.
  • The court also reasoned that the plaintiff’s choice to bring this issue to trial, as well as his decision to share information about his injury online (showing pictures of him in shorts with his scar visible, as well as recent pictures with his motorcycle), meant that he could not have a reasonable expectation of social media privacy.

Although courts often permit eDiscovery of private and hidden social media postings, this decision by the court illustrates a need for relevance of the evidence to be shown before that permission is granted.

So, what do you think? Was the court wrong in allowing eDiscovery of personal Facebook and MySpace accounts, or does the plaintiff in a personal injury case waive his right to social media privacy? Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

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About the Bloggers

Brad Jenkins

Brad Jenkins, President and CEO of CloudNine Discovery, has over 20 years of experience leading customer focused companies in the litigation support arena. Brad has authored many articles on litigation support issues, and has spoken before national audiences on document management practices and solutions.

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Doug Austin

Doug Austin, Professional Services Manager for CloudNine Discovery, has over 20 years experience providing legal technology consulting and technical project management services to numerous commercial and government clients. Doug has also authored several articles on eDiscovery best practices.

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Jane Gennarelli

Jane Gennarelli is a principal of Magellan’s Law Corporation and has been assisting litigators in effectively handling discovery materials for over 30 years. She authored the company’s Best Practices in a Box™ content product and assists firms in applying technology to document handling tasks. She is a known expert and often does webinars and presentations for litigation support professionals around the country. Jane can be reached by email at jane@litigationbestpractices.com.

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