Why You Should Never Discuss Your Car Accident on Social Media
How many times a day do you post to your Facebook or Twitter account? For some of us, social media is as much a part of our everyday routine as brushing our teeth or driving to work. We have become accustomed to sharing every minute detail of our lives with our online friends, followers, and the world at large.
But suppose you are involved in a car accident while driving: Should you post pictures of the car accident on social media, the way you might a dinner at a nice restaurant? Most personal injury lawyers would advise against this, and for good reason. What you see as an unremarkable Facebook post can be potential evidence the other side uses against you at trial or to deny your insurance claim.
The truth is, there is almost no way talking about an auto accident on social media can help you if it becomes necessary to pursue (or defend against) a personal injury claim. Seemingly innocuous things you say or post online can be twisted and misinterpreted.
Additionally, discussing your accident may prompt a response from the other party, and the last thing you want to do is litigate your case in the so-called court of public opinion.
Veneruzzo v. Storey: Discussion of Car Accident on Social Media Not in the Public Interest
Even discussing an already resolved personal injury case online can lead to problems. Remember, Ontario has laws against libel. This means, for instance, that you could be liable for civil damages if you make false or defamatory statements about the other party to an accident online and outside the normal judicial process.
The Ontario Court of Appeal recently considered just such a libel lawsuit, Veneruzzo v. Storey. This terrible case started with a tragic 2008 auto accident. The defendant, at the time an Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) officer, was traveling at unsafe speeds and collided with another vehicle driven by an 18-year-old woman.
The victim “sustained extreme traumatic blunt force injuries” and died on impact, according to Ontario court records.
The Crown subsequently charged the defendant with “criminal negligence causing death,” for which he was tried and convicted in 2013. The defendant then served a two-year prison sentence. The victim’s family later settled a civil lawsuit against the defendant.
That might have been the end of the story. But in 2015, after the defendant’s release from prison, he made a series of posts about the car accident on Facebook. In brief, the defendant attempted to shift blame for the fatal accident onto the victim and made critical personal statements about the victim’s family.
For example, the defendant alleged the victim had poor driving habits prior to the accident, and that members of her family got drunk and yelled at OPP officers following the funeral service.
The victim’s family responded to these posts by filing a libel lawsuit, seeking damages for “defamation, intentional infliction of mental distress and intrusion upon seclusion.”
Ontario’s Anti-SLAPP Law and the Meaning of “Public Interest”
Before the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, the defendant filed a motion to dismiss, arguing his Facebook posts constituted protected expression on a “matter of public interest.” Ontario law protects such expression against what are known as “strategic lawsuits against public participation” (SLAPP).
The trial court denied the motion to dismiss. There was no question the defendant’s Facebook posts qualified as “expression” under Ontario’s anti-SLAPP law. But the judge determined the defendant’s statements did not “relate to a matter of public interest.”
The Court noted that Ontario’s anti-SLAPP law does not directly define “public interest.” But the Supreme Court of Canada has explained that “the public interest is not synonymous with what interests the public.” Rather, the subject matter “must be shown to be one inviting public attention, or about which the public has some substantial concern because it affects the welfare of citizens.”
Here, the defendant argued that the original auto accident, and his subsequent criminal trial, was an “an event of notoriety and controversy,” and therefore qualified as a matter of public interest.
The judge disagreed, holding that there was “no public aspect” to the posts attempting to blame the victim for her own death, especially given the defendant previously admitted responsibility in court.
It would be one thing if the defendant used the accident as context for commenting on “police policy involving high speed chases or the responsibility of civilian motorists to pull over.” In this case, the defendant was not involved in any sort of active pursuit.
Furthermore, the judge said there was no public interest in the alleged conduct of the victim’s family. They were not public figures. And although some degree of notoriety “may well have attached to the collision” and the victim’s death, that does not mean there were any “public interest implications” in the defendant’s allegations.
The defendant appealed the denial of his motion to dismiss to the Court of Appeal. In a judgment issued on April 30, 2018, a three-judge panel unanimously dismissed the appeal. The defendant’s principal argument on appeal was that the trial court “failed to consider the relevant Facebook posts ‘as a whole’” and “characterized the phrase ‘public interest’ too narrowly.”
The Court of Appeal disagreed on both counts.
CONTACT PRESZLER INJURY LAWYERS
If you were injured in an accident caused by someone else’s negligence, social media may seem like a safe space to express thoughts and feelings about your experience. However, these sentiments can be used against you at a later date. To learn how our Ontario car accident lawyers may be able to help you through this process, call 1-800-JUSTICE today.