Social networking websites such as Twitter and Facebook are now an integral part of everyday life and the benefits of these sites in a professional context are continually being explored. With more than 750 million Facebook users and over 200 million Twitter users worldwide it is little wonder that litigation lawyers are latching onto these resources as an effective tool in defending personal injury claims.
The recent case of Locke v Stuart & AXA highlights how the Court is prepared to accept evidence obtained from social networking websites to support allegations of fraud in motor claims.
The Claimant in this case pursued a claim for damages for personal injury following a road traffic accident. Between the two vehicles, nine separate personal injury claims were presented by individuals alleging that they were involved in the collision.
The insurance company considered that the accident had been staged for financial gain and was part of a series of fraudulent road traffic accidents that had recently occurred in the same geographical area. Patterns were also identified across the claims which noted that there were a high number of people in each vehicle; the vehicles involved were often on short term hire and the claim referrals were made by the same company in each instance.
AXA therefore sought to defend the claim with allegations of fraudulent activity and a considerable amount of investigations and surveillance were undertaken to obtain sufficient evidence to support the defence.
Part of the investigation involved researching the individuals on their publicly available Facebook pages and it was noted that there were a number of links between the parties who were involved in this accident, as well as other similar accidents in the same area. AXA submitted that many of these individuals were âfriends' on Facebook and that these connections were more than just a coincidence.
The Court found that the evidence provided did support the allegation that the accident had been manufactured for monetary gain and therefore the claim present by the Claimant in this instance was fraudulent. The claim was accordingly dismissed, resulting in a considerable financial saving for the insurance company.
Guidance was provided by the Court for future cases involving social networking sites, with the suggestion that if Facebook or other similar evidence was to be relied on it should be in the format of witness statements which would help to explain the strengths and weaknesses, as well as the relevance, of the documents.
Ultimately it was determined that social networking websites are an extremely valuable surveillance tool which can be relied upon by the Court, provided that the evidence submitted is concise and applicable to the facts in question.
At Trethowans we ensure that we keep abreast of the latest legal updates and case law surrounding the issues of technology and social media so that we can use and apply this information for the benefit of our clients in order to deliver a cost-effective result.