By Jacob W. Gent, Attorney at Law
There is no question that the internet is an integral part of our everyday lives in the 21st Century. It has changed the way we communicate and do business in countless ways, from online shopping to avoid the holiday crowds, to online banking to handle our personal and business finances. It used to be a person could surf the web with a fair degree of anonymity. That is no longer the case. “Most people are still under the illusion that when they go online, they’re anonymous,” says Nicolas Carr, author of The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains. In reality, “every move they make is being collected into a database.”
This stored information can be retrieved and/or distributed, either lawfully by fine print terms contained in service contacts, or illegally by hackers, investigators, or rogue employees looking to make a quick dollar. It is also being gathered by data aggregators who sell it to advertisers, banks, and insurance companies for pennies.
The most potentially harmful data mining for these purposed is happening in placed that have become everyday interaction sites for millions of people like MySpace, Classmates.com, LinkedIn, Facebook. These and a host of other social networking sites are a great way to find and stay connection with friends, colleagues, and loved ones. They are also a virtual treasure trove of personal information, for better or worse, related to a personal injury claim.
What are the insurance companies and their insurance lawyers doing with this information? They are using it to set premium rates based on where you live and what kind of lifestyle you lead. They also use this information as another tool to delay, limit or deny an injured person’s access to medical care and benefits to which they are legally entitled.
Take Facebook alone: Statistics show an average user will create 90 pieces of new content each month. This includes status updates, personal photographs, conversations between users, posts to profiles of other users, names (and profiles) of relatives and friends, personal relationship status, where you went to school, your employment history, and when you’ve added new “friends” or “likes.” Like the rest of us, your personal injury patients are posting this information without a thought as to who will view it later. For instance, a casual search of a social networking site revealed the following about one young man:
- He is single
- He smokes cigarettes
- He drinks Old English Malt Liquor
- He once attended Eastern Washington University, but dropped out
- He was once put in jail.
All of this information was readily accessible without even being his “friend!”
A 21 year old woman lost her case involving a traumatic brain injury when opposing counsel discovered photos she had posted on a social media site of her going out socially and was applying for jobs (both activities recommended by her healthcare provider, but were taken out of context and used against her).
There are more of these types of scenarios playing out with increasing frequency.
As medical and legal professionals, we must educate out patients and clients about the risks of disclosure of their private, personal information in order to better serve them and protect their rights.
The lesson here is simple:
Think twice before posting and be very careful about the amount and content of information you provide anywhere online. Be aware of what your friends are posting about you! As the information can be viewed out of context and spun in ways that can deny legitimate claims.
If your patient has experienced a traumatic injury and has a potential personal injury claim, a legal consultation is advisable to learn about the unwritten and written rules of a personal injury claim. Not every needs to hire an attorney to represent them, but all should benefit from a consultation to explain their legal rights and duties. The attorneys at Adler Giersch ps Seattle, Bellevue, Everett, and Kent stand ready to assist your patients in answering their questions and providing advise that keeps them out of harms way of the insurance company’s tactics.