Social Media as Evidence: Good Times Yield Bad Results
Posted by defensebaseactcomp on February 6, 2012
by Jon Coppleman February 6, 2012
ABC news has picked up a story out of Arkansas: Zack Clement suffered a hernia while moving a refrigerator for his employer, Johnson’s Warehouse Showroom. He underwent multiple surgeries, but the pain lingered, so he filed for a continuation of benefits. Among the pieces of evidence at his trial were party photos posted on his Facebook page, which show Clement drinking (and little else). When his claim for reinstatement was denied, Clement appealed, citing the unfairness of the Facebook evidence.
ABC wrote as follows:
In an opinion, written by Judge David M. Glover, the Arkansas Court of Appeals states: “We find no abuse of discretion in the allowance of photographs. Clement contended that he was in excruciating pain, but these pictures show him drinking and partying.”
“Certainly these pictures could have a bearing on a Clement’s credibility, albeit a negative effect that Clement might not wish to be demonstrated to the ALJ or the Commission, ” Glover continues. “We hold that there was not an abuse of discretion in allowing the photographs.”
Justice in the Details
At first glance, the judge’s comments might be cause for alarm. An injured worker suffering from chronic pain might well be capable of having a few drinks with friends. (One can only hope that the alcohol does not interfere with any prescribed -or unprescribed – pain medications.) If the photos were the primary evidence of Clement’s condition and the basis for denying the claim, Clement would have good reason to object. However, this is not the case.
In the course of his carefully reasoned findings, Judge Glover reviews in detail the medical history of Clement’s claim. Even after multiple surgeries and several changes in treating doctors, Clement complained of ongoing pain. Extensive medical testing revealed no abnormalities and no evidence for the pain itself. He has been released to full duty. It is this detailed history and the lack of medical evidence that lead Glover to conclude that any further treatment would fall outside of the workers comp system. The Facebook photos are by no means the foundation of his findings. Nonetheless, he decides that the photos are a legitimate piece of the case file and admissable as evidence.
In my limited experience, Facebook seems to be a platform for superficial news and, for the most part, images of the good times. It is difficult to imagine that Clement would have used this public forum to post pictures of himself suffering excrutiating pain. If he had chosen to do so, this might have provided evidence in his favor. However, his friends would likely have chided him for being such a downer and even then, the court might have dismissed the images as theatrical exaggeration.
Facebook may now be the preferred means of presenting our personal narratives, but it is unlikely to help us make our case in a court of law.