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Plaintiff Ordered to Produce Facebook Photos and Messages as Discovery in Personal Injury Lawsuit – eDiscovery Case Law


In Forman v. Henkin, 2014 NY Slip Op 30679 (NY Sup. Ct. Mar 19, 2014), a Motion to Compel was granted in part for a defendant who requested authorization to obtain records of the plaintiff’s private postings to Facebook.

In this New York personal injury litigation, the plaintiff had been injured after falling off a horse owned by the defendant. During deposition, the plaintiff testified that she had posted photos of herself engaged in various activities on Facebook prior to the accident, and that she could no longer engage in those activities due to her injuries. Additionally, the plaintiff alleged that she had suffered brain injuries from the fall, which have impaired her ability to read and write, leaving her unable to compose text messages and emails. The plaintiff also claimed that her memory had been impaired, and so she could not remember whether she had posted any photos on Facebook after the injury.

At some point after the accident, but prior to the litigation, the plaintiff had deactivated her Facebook account. The defendant filed a “motion to compel disclosure or for penalties due to the plaintiff’s nondisclosure” requesting access to the plaintiff’s photos, status messages, and instant messages on the Facebook account. No time frame was specified for the defendant’s request.

Judge Lucy Billings noted that any photos of the plaintiff prior to her injury would be of little probative value, because “[i]f she did post such photographs on Facebook, they only will corroborate her testimony. If she did not post such photographs, their absence will not show that she did not engage in various activities before her injury that she no longer engages in.” However, it was stated that photos of the plaintiff after the accident would be of probative value. Specifically, “Photographs of plaintiff engaging in various activities after her injury, particularly any activities she claims she no longer is able to engage in due to her fall from defendant’s horse…”

In addition to photos, the defendant requested writings by the plaintiff from both pre-injury and post-injury time frames, to assess “the impact of plaintiff’s injury on her ability to reason, find words, write, and communicate effectively.” Judge Billings agreed that the defendant was entitled to request the plaintiff’s writings, both after the accident and for a limited time period leading up to the accident for the purposes of comparison. In addition, the defendant was permitted to obtain a psychological and a physical examination of the plaintiff to assess her communication abilities. However, it was noted that the plaintiff’s writing outside of private Facebook messages, along with a single examination, “may not fully reveal the frequency, speed, and volume of her writing,” and therefore the defendant was entitled to obtain Facebook records showing “each time plaintiff posted a private message and the number of characters or words in the text of each private messages,” for a time period from the date of the accident to the deactivation of her Facebook account.

The plaintiff was ordered to produce within 20 days all photos of herself engaged in the activities she intends to introduce at trial that were posted to Facebook, as well as all photos posted to Facebook after her injury that do not contain nudity or romantic encounters, and to provide the defendant with authorization to obtain records from Facebook as stated.

So, what do you think? Should private Facebook accounts be subjected to discovery requests, even after accounts have been deactivated? Are Facebook records presented without the actual text of the messages or postings sufficient to introduce as evidence? Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

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