The Importance of Investigating Claimants’ Online Presence

With the rapid proliferation of social media websites such as Facebook, Twitter,
and Instagram in recent years, parties to litigation now have access to information on
subjects’ private lives that in an earlier era would only have been accessible by hiring
a private investigator. In many instances, it is possible to find information online about
the claimant that undermines or flatly contradicts elements of the claim presented, and
these pieces of information become a critical part of the litigation.

Social media research played an important role for the defense in obtaining
a defense verdict in two recent cases. Griffin v. New Prime Inc., No. 1:10-CV-1926
(U.S.D.C. ND Ga.), and companion case Lewis v. New Prime Inc., No. 1:10-CV-1228-
WSD (U.S.D.C. ND Ga.) concerned a multiple-fatality accident that occurred after a
tractor-trailer was hit by a van transporting prisoners. The Defendant in both of these
cases was the trucking company while the prisoner transportation company was not
a party. Defense counsel for the tractor-trailer corporation used a Facebook search to
secure evidence impeaching the testimony of one of the plaintiffs, who claimed a head
injury from the accident prevented him from being able to taste food or be outside in the
sunshine. Defense counsel presented the jury with a photograph of plaintiff’s new beach
house, which lacked handicap accessibility, as well as photographs of plaintiff’s new
boat, shark fishing trips, and a Hawaiian vacation (complete with meal photos).

While the evidence turned up by defense counsel in Griffin and Lewis only
directly addressed the issue of damages, quality impeachment evidence will place the
veracity of the impeached party’s entire case in question. The Facebook photos at
issue in Griffin and Lewis surely helped the jury reach a verdict in favor of the defendant
tractor-trailer corporation.


Nick Hinson