Author: Katy M. Young
I had previously blogged about the dangers of blowing your defense (or even inviting a lawsuit) based on social media activities. This post will examine the importance of controlling your client’s web presence when your client is the Plaintiff. In a lawsuit, the Plaintiff usually has the harder job because it is Plaintiff’s burden to prove each element of her cause of action and her damages by a preponderance of the evidence. Defendants sometimes have an easier time since a verdict in Defendant’s favor can be achieved by knocking out elements of a Plaintiff’s claim. Evidence comes in many forms, and these days, the internet is fertile ground for evidence gathering.
Recently, I represented a Defendant in a lawsuit filed by someone he used to be very close to. The Plaintiff claimed millions of dollars in damages and even put on expert witness testimony to justify the multi-million dollar demand. Both parties had previously been very active internet users, but once he was named in the lawsuit, my client heeded my advice to shy away from social media lest he make matters worse for himself. Plaintiff’s lawyers were able litigators and I am certain that they gave their client the same warning, but their client did not listen. Perhaps she didn’t understand that information found online is akin to shouting the same message in ye olde public square. Perhaps she was lulled into believing her activities would go undiscovered because she didn’t use her real name as her username and the damning information was located on a dating website. Perhaps she underestimated Ad Astra Law Group’s abilities to track her online. What is certain is that Plaintiff posted information on her online dating profile which directly undercut her expert witness’ testimony about the extent of her damages. Perhaps she was lying to her potential dates about the true state of things. Perhaps she lied to the expert witness who rendered the opinion on her damages. What is certain is that she lied to someone, and all that mattered was that she lied. It didn’t so much matter whether what she posted was true, it was simply that what she posted contradicted her expert’s testimony on damages. Even if she could have proven that the Defendant was liable for her harm, the jury wouldn’t have known what to believe about the extent of her damages. The Plaintiff had badly damaged her own credibility. The case settled quickly after our online discovery.
A word to the wise: the web is the modern town square and anything you say there can come back to haunt you. Whether Plaintiff or Defendant, the best practice is to cease your online activity entirely- but don’t delete what you previously posted, for you may end up spoliating evidence…but that is a blog post for another time!