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Digging Up Social Media’s Treasure Trove of Discovery

July 11, 2011

Facebook, and other social media sites such as MySpace and Twitter, allow users to express themselves and share information. In personal injury and employment suits, disclosure of plaintiffs’ personal information can impact the litigation dramatically. Not surprisingly, plaintiffs’ privacy rights are colliding with the broad parameters of discovery on what I call the Facebook frontier.

On May 19, Judge Charles H. Saylor of the Court of Common Pleas of Northumberland County, Pa., issued a thorough opinion analyzing the Facebook frontier. According to that opinion, the plaintiff in Zimmerman v. Weis Markets Inc. sought damages for a workplace accident that left him with a scarred leg.

Referring to earlier cases in Pennsylvania, New York, Colorado, and Canada, the court ordered the owner to provide all passwords to his Facebook and MySpace accounts and refrain from altering the information therein. The court noted that “liberal discovery is generally allowable, and the pursuit of truth as to alleged claims is a paramount ideal.”

The court also observed that regardless of privacy settings, “… Facebook and MySpace do not guarantee complete privacy,” and:

With the initiation of litigation to seek a monetary award based upon limitations or harm to one’s person, any relevant, non-privileged information about one’s life that is shared with others and can be gleaned by defendants from the internet is fair game in today’s society.

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