New York Court Limits Access to Facebook Data

A New York Appellate Court has ruled in Patterson v. Turner Construction that a defendant in a personal injury case does not have an unfettered right to access the plaintiff’s Facebook account.

Instead, the defendant can seek only to that which is “relevant, in that it contradicts or conflicts with plaintiff’s alleged restrictions, disabilities, and losses, and other claims.”

The appellate court reversed a trial court order which "granted defendants’ motion to compel an authorization for all of plaintiff’s Facebook records compiled after the incident alleged in the complaint, including any records previously deleted or archived."

According to Eric Turkewitz, author of the New York Personal Injury Law Blog, this that it trial judges

see fit to grant a request for Facebook or similar records, the judge will be forced to do in camera reviews of potentially voluminous records comprising all manner of notes that might come from Facebook, My Space, private blogs, Twitter,  emails, texts and other places. The digital age has spawned an extraordinary boatload of information that courts will have to sift through when demands are made by overeager lawyers hoping to stumble upon some smoking gun.

And what does that mean?  In Eric’s opinion, that means that trial judges are going to require that there is a "factual predicate" to make the demand,  a showing required by in an opinion by a New York appellate court in McCann v. Harleysville Ins. Co.

This is only fair.  No one – plaintiff or defendant – puts his or her life up for total inspection when involved in a Tennessee personal injury case,  medical malpractice  case, or any other kind of dispute.  People – particularly young people – put lots of information on social media sites (way too much, in my opinion) and there is no reason to give an adverse party the wholesale right to all of that information.

Thanks, Eric, for sharing these cases and your thoughts with us on this important topic.

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