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When Claiming Workplace Injury, Facebook Posts Aren’t Handy, Man: eDiscovery Case Law

In Newill v. Campbell Transp. Co., 2:12-cv-1344 (W.D. Pa. Jan. 14, 2015), Pennsylvania Senior District Judge Terrence F. McVerry ruled on the plaintiff’s motion in limine on miscellaneous matters by allowing the defendant to introduce Facebook posts into evidence that related to the plaintiff’s physical capabilities, but not those that related to his employability.

Case Summary

In this workplace injury case related to the plaintiff’s employment with a shipping company, the plaintiff sought, via his motion, to preclude the defendant from introducing several of his Facebook posts into evidence, on the basis that they are irrelevant or would be unfairly prejudicial. The defendant responded that the posts were relevant to show that following the accident the plaintiff retained the ability to engage in physical activities despite his claim of injury.

The defendant sought to introduce Facebook posts where the plaintiff discussed “physically taxing activities” such as painting, landscaping, flooring, going to the gym, undercoating a truck, and “going physical”. The plaintiff also apparently advertised his services as a handyman and suggested that “no job [was] 2 big or 2 small.” The Defendant also argued that the posts were relevant to the question of the plaintiff’s employability, which the defendant’s expert testified would have been improved if he adopted a “sensible social medial presence” and eliminated posts containing “casual or rough language” on Facebook.

Judge’s Decision

Judge McVerry found that “posts from Plaintiff’s Facebook account ‘that reflect physical capabilities inconsistent with a plaintiff’s claimed injury are relevant.’”  He also stated, however:

“While the Court understands that Plaintiff may be embarrassed by the content of some of his posts, that alone is not a sufficient basis for excluding the posts under Rule 403. If, at trial, Defendant attempts to introduce a particular Facebook post that Plaintiff feels is unduly embarrassing, the issue of the admissibility can be re-raised at that time and the Court reserves the discretion to exclude it pursuant to Fed. R. Evid. 611 (granting the court discretion to bar harassment and undue embarrassment of a witness).

As to Defendant’s second argument, the Court is not convinced that Costantini should be permitted testify about Plaintiff’s inane postings on Facebook when discussing the issue of his employability. To be sure, potential employers do often consider an applicant’s Facebook account when making a hiring decision. But Costantini’s testimony that Plaintiff’s Facebook account “probably is not giving the employers a good impression” is nothing more than speculation. There is nothing in the record actually linking his Facebook posts to his inability to obtain new employment until recently or suggesting that the types of jobs for which Plaintiff was qualified would be harder to obtain because of his Facebook posts. Without such a link having been established, Costantini has no basis to offer an opinion on these matters.”

As a result, Judge McVerry denied the portion of the plaintiff’s motion “insofar as it seeks to prevent Defendant from introducing Facebook posts that tend to contradict his claimed damages”, but granted the portion with regard to the defendant’s expert being permitted to rely on Plaintiff’s Facebook posts in assessing his employability.

So, what do you think? Should the defendant be prohibited from introducing posts that demonstrate the plaintiff’s employability? Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

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