Insurance Companies Search Social Media During Property Claim Investigations, Part II

Nicole Vinson | Property Insurance Coverage Law Blog | November 14, 2015

In the first post of this series on social media, we listed various reasons the insurance company is searching your social media profile during a claim investigation to specifically address the non-claim related issues carriers are searching for in your tweets, posts, and check-ins. Click here to read Part I of this series.

Adjusters, investigators, and attorneys use Google and social media to learn about the character and habits of those they are connecting with on a claim.

While we know that social media posts are used to undermine credibility and get unsolicited intel on an insured, there are ways your social media footprint can be used to help during an investigation of your claim.

Focusing on just personal property losses, here are some ways looking back at your old posts—and specifically your photographs—can help you if policyholder document your damages. These tips can help any policyholder in any state, and be applied to any peril when items of personal property are being claimed.

  1. Photographs can help you inventory. Many people have pictures of the rooms of their house showing up in the background of Facebook photos. Did you take a funny video of your cat? That same video may show evidence of the contents of a living room and dining room?
  2. Your favorite photos show you all dressed up for a special night on the town or on vacation. These photos show the vintage earrings and great purse you wore for New Year’s Eve. Those vacation pictures will help make sure you remember that multi-lens camera and the great treasures you brought home from the Alaskan cruise.
  3. Photographs can jog your memory about events and your belongings. You can not only see items you owned in the background but you will remember more about the location of your cherished items in your home if the actual property is now stolen, burned, or blown away.
  4. Kids have a lot of stuff and for some reason stop using many of those expensive accessories and toys. Looking back at old photos on Facebook can help you remember what was in the closets.
  5. Have a wedding album on Instagram? These hashtagged photos will help you remember not only the best night of dancing to Billy Joel but also jog your memory about old neighbors who came and the gift they purchased for you.
  6. Photographs can depict model numbers or help identify the model you owned. Zooming in on the photo of the electronics shown in the cute picture of your son’s missing front teeth will reveal the model of surround sound you had in the den.
  7. Photographs can…

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Insurance Companies Search Social Media During Property Claim Investigations, Part I

Nicole Vinson | Property Insurance Coverage Law Blog | October 24, 2015

Policyholders are human and social media has really become a way of life for the young and those in their golden years.

Not surprisingly, homeowners and business owners suffering a loss, post about their problems on social media. But consider this: insurance companies are using information gathered from your social media profiles to look for ways to gain information they can turn into a red flag or a reason to delay or deny your claim.

Even if you don’t post one thing about your loss, you may still be under fire by your insurance adjuster about posts placed put on the Internet before you ever even had a problem.

When insurance companies are questioning insureds in a recorded statement, during an initial claim intake or interview, or at examinations under oath, they have already done a detailed evaluation into your public profiles.

To really grasp the power and the magnitude of how posting rants and photos can affect your insurance claim, you would really need to be a fly on the wall in the offices of the carriers.

The powers that be that are denying and delaying the claim are judging your character. Even if the claim has nothing to do with you personally, even if liability and responsibility is clear, the carriers are judging you.

What would an insurance company be looking at on your Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn accounts that have nothing to do with your current claim? Here is the short, non-inclusive list

  • Information on the risk location or about your home, business or life prior to the loss
  • Posts about the condition of the property, complaints or brags
  • Complaints about your property having problems before the loss
  • Complaints or brags about people or companies servicing your home
  • Posts about the staff persons in your business and their areas of expertise
  • Posts about purchase or inheritance of items
  • Posts about marital trouble
  • Posts about financial trouble
  • Your vacation photos…

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If You Post It, Your Opponent Can Probably Discover It

Dick Bennett | Cozen O’Connor’s Property Insurance Law Observer | January 26, 2015

In March we ran a post on how important videos, photographs, and statements on social media sites can be when investigating a property loss.  A picture is literally worth a thousand words.  Earlier this month, a Florida court explained that such material is also discoverable – even in situations where the policyholder employs privacy settings that prevent the general public from having access to his or her account – because the user’s privacy interest in such a site is “minimal, if any.”  Nucci v. Target Corp., – So.3d –, 2015 WL 71726, 2015 Fla. App. LEXIS 153 (Fla.Dist.Ct.App., Jan. 7, 2015) involved a slip-and-fall, but it applies with equal force to discovery in a first-party matter.

Maria Nucci filed a personal injury action against Target, alleging that she fell on “a foreign substance” on the floor of one of the defendant’s stores.  Her complaint contended that she sustained permanent injuries, aggravated pre-existing ones, and also experienced lost earnings and emotional pain and suffering.  Prior to her deposition, Target’s attorneys reviewed her Facebook profile and found that it contained 1,285 photographs.  She was questioned about some of them at the deposition itself, and she promptly took three dozen of the pictures down.

Target moved to compel.  After a hearing, the trial court ordered production of “copies or screenshots of all photographs associated with” any social networking account that Ms. Nucci was currently registered with from two years prior to the date of loss until the present.  The plaintiff then sought certiorari review from Florida’s intermediate level appellate court.

Earlier this month, a unanimous panel denied the petition.  As Judge Robert M. Gross’ opinion explained, one reason was that “certiorari review is available in only a narrow class of cases and [Ms. Nucci’s] case does not meet the stringent requirements” for that remedy.  The judges also denied the petition, however, because the Facebook pictures were “highly relevant” and, most significantly, because it held that Ms. Nucci had “but a limited privacy interest, if any, in pictures posted on her social networking sites.”

With respect to relevance, Judge Gross explained the court’s rationale as follows:

In a personal injury case where the plaintiff is seeking intangible damages, the fact-finder is required to examine the quality of the plaintiff’s life before and after the accident to determine the extent of the loss.  From testimony alone, it is often difficult for the fact-finder to grasp what a plaintiff’s life was like prior to an accident. It would take a great novelist, a Tolstoy, a Dickens, or a Hemingway, to use words to summarize the totality of a prior life.  If a photograph is worth a thousand words, there is no better portrayal of what an individual’s life was like than those photographs the individual has chosen to share through social media before the occurrence of an accident causing injury. Such photographs are the equivalent of a “day in the life” slide show produced by the plaintiff before the existence of any motive to manipulate reality. The photographs sought here are thus powerfully relevant to the damage issues in the lawsuit.

With respect to privacy, the panel held that “the relevance of the photographs overwhelms Nucci’s minimal privacy interest in them.”  As Judge Gross noted, before the right to privacy attaches, “there must exist a legitimate expectation of privacy.”  Ms. Nucci argued that she had just such an expectation because her Facebook page had been on a privacy setting that prevented the general public from accessing her account.  The court was unconvinced, however, explaining that the very nature of a social networking site such as Facebook effectively rules out such an expectation.  According to the opinion:

We agree with those cases concluding that, generally, the photographs posted on a social networking site are neither privileged nor protected by any right of privacy, regardless of any privacy settings that the user may have established.

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Because information that an individual shares through social networking web-sites like Facebook may be copied and disseminated by another, the expectation that such information is private, in the traditional sense of the word, is not a reasonable one.

via If You Post It, Your Opponent Can Probably Discover It | Cozen O’Connor’s Property Insurance Law Observer.