Self-Destructive Selfies (NY)

Defense attorneys have increasingly turned to social media  to defend against exaggerated claims of personal injuries. In Smith v. Brown, 2018 NY Slip Op 28299, the plaintiff commenced an action in Supreme Court, Bronx County, to recover for personal injuries allegedly sustained in a motor vehicle accident.

At the discovery stage, one of the defendants served plaintiff with a notice to admit, seeking to admit: (1) whether plaintiff owns and maintains an Instagram account with a specific “handle”; (2) whether the account associated with that handle was changed from a public to private account setting after a specific date; (3) whether plaintiff was depicted in a number of specified photographs obtained from the Instagram account — and whether those photographs were taken after the accident. Defendant served copies of each of the 33 photographs for which admissions were sought along with the notice. The photographs appeared to depict a young woman (presumably the plaintiff), engaged in different activities, such as riding in a car, climbing a rock, and walking on a boardwalk.

Plaintiff filed a motion seeking a protective order to vacate or strike the notice to admit arguing that defendant was attempting, impermissibly, to use the notice to admit in lieu of other disclosure devices, such as a deposition. Plaintiff also argued that the notice to admit was improper because it sought admissions on material issues in the litigation. Defendant opposed the motion, arguing that the admissions sought in the notice to admit were relevant to the issue of the extent of plaintiff’s damages, and not to any ultimate questions of fact or any legal conclusions.

The Court agreed with defendant, and plaintiff’s motion was denied. The Court ultimately held that the notice did not seek admissions as to any ultimate conclusions (such as which driver or drivers were negligent) or information of a technical, detailed or scientific nature. Therefore, those matters on which defendant sought admissions could be explored at a deposition and were thus within the proper scope of a notice to admit.

Social Media is now, much like post-deposition surveillance, a valuable tool in gauging a plaintiff’s credibility, and also, mitigating a future pain and suffering claim.   Thanks to Tyler Rossworn for his contribution to this post.  Please email Brian Gibbons with any questions.