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Facebook photos are focus of court’s ruling in workers’ comp case

To the degree that some injured workers in Ohio pay attention to the workers’ compensation rulings in other states, they might want to consider a recent appellate court decision from Arkansas. That case sends a strong message concerning the central role that today’s social media can play in a court case and legal outcome.

The court’s ruling should certainly stand as a clarion call for online users of sites such as Facebook and Myspace to be prudent about guarding their privacy.

The question in the case: whether a lower court abused its discretion by allowing Facebook photographs as evidence to deny a claimant’s request for an extension of compensation benefits.

The answer, in a word: No. The claimant, stated the appellate panel, “contended that he was in excruciating pain, but these pictures show him drinking and partying.” The court ruled that the pictures were relevant, with the medium through which they were conveyed not being an issue. They had a direct bearing on the claimant’s credibility and were therefore admissible.

The worker’s legal team strenuously disagreed with that, calling the ruling “a disgrace to the dignity of the workers’ compensation proceedings and the legal system.” The pictures, said one attorney, undermined “the dignity of the working class” because they had nothing to do with the severity of the claimant’s medical condition (a hernia sustained when a refrigerator fell on top of him, necessitating multiple surgeries) and his need for further treatment. As such, they were “irrelevant, immaterial and prejudicial.”

What merits the consideration of any person involved in legal proceedings is the clear trend regarding a person’s online social media presence to be admissible as evidence. Courts across the country are increasingly ruling that pictures and writings from Facebook and related sites are fair game for close scrutiny in court. That has been especially clear in family law proceedings. As shown here, it can also be true in the realm of workers’ compensation.

Source: ABC News, “Court okays Facebook party photos in workers’ comp claim” Lyneka Little, Feb. 3, 2012