No Expectation of Privacy in Slip and Fall Case
Earlier this year, a Florida appeals court ordered that a plaintiff must turn over photos that she deleted from her private Facebook page in a slip and fall premises liability case. The court ruled that social media users should not expect that the information that they post on those websites to remain private. The ruling has the potential to substantially affect future slip and fall cases that are filed in the state.
Facts of the Case
In the case of Maria F. Nucci and Henry Leon v. Target Corp., American Building Inc., and First Choice Building Maintenance, Inc., Maria Nucci went to a Target store on February 4, 2010. While there, she slipped and fell on a foreign substance on the floor of the store. She subsequently sued the company for premises liability, claiming that as a result of the slip and fall she had experienced the following:
- Suffered bodily injury;
- Experienced pain from the injury;
- Incurred medical, hospital, and nursing expenses, suffered physical handicap;
- Suffered emotional pain and suffering;
- Lost earnings;
- Lost the ability to earn money;
- Lost or suffered a diminution of ability to enjoy her life;
- Suffered aggravation of preexisting injuries;
- Suffered permanent or continuing injuries; and
- Will continue to suffer the losses and impairment in the future.
Target took Ms. Nucci’s deposition on September 4, 2013. Before the deposition, Target looked at her Facebook page and saw that she had 1,285 photos and asked during the deposition for some of the photographs that she had posted. Ms. Nucci declined and two days later Target noticed that she only had 1,249 photographs on the social media page. Target moved to compel inspection of her Facebook page and requested that Ms. Nucci not destroy any other information on her social media websites.
Ms. Nucci countered with the argument that her Facebook page was on a privacy setting that prevented the general public from seeing her account, and as a result she had a reasonable expectation of privacy regarding her Facebook information. In addition, she claimed that Target was on a fishing expedition for evidence that was overbroad in its request for information.
Motion to Compel
At the hearing for the motion to compel, Target showed the court surveillance footage of Ms. Nucci that had her carrying two large purses at once as well as two large jugs of water on another occasion. Target argued that because she put her physical condition at issue, the relevancy of the Facebook photos outweighed her right to privacy. Furthermore, the company argued that there is no constitutional right to privacy for Facebook. The court denied Target’s motion because the request was “vague, overly broad, and unduly burdensome.”
As a result, Target filed a narrower, more focused discovery request. It gave Ms. Nucci a set of four interrogatories and nine items in a request to produce. Ms. Nucci rejected the interrogatories on the grounds of privacy, that the items were not readily accessible, and relevance. She denied the requests to produce based on the same grounds as well as that they were overbroad, brought solely to harass, “over[ly] burdensome,” “unduly burdensome,” and unduly vague.
At the trial court, Target moved to disallow Ms. Nucci’s objections and conceded that the requests for production should be limited to photographs. The trial court granted Target’s motion in part and denied it in part. It compelled Ms. Nucci to identify all social media websites that she has registered, list all phone numbers and phones, and to provide photographs from her social media websites and phones from two years prior to the accident to the present. Ms. Nucci appealed the trial court’s ruling.
Ruling of the Court
The appellate court ruled in favor of Target on the premise that Ms. Nucci was seeking damages based on the quality of life before and after her accident, and as a result, Target is required to examine her quality of life through testimony and other evidence. “The photographs sought here are thus powerfully relevant to the damage issues in the lawsuit.”
In addition, the court reasoned that the Facebook photographs in this case were particularly relevant because “the post-accident surveillance videos of Nucci suggest that her injury claims are suspect and that she may not be an accurate report of her pre-accident life or of the quality of her life since then.” Therefore, her testimony alone would not be enough to truthfully establish the quality of her life pre- and post-accident.
In regards to Ms. Nucci’s argument that the request violated her right to privacy because of the settings on her Facebook page, the court of appeals found that “the relevance of the photographs overwhelms Nucci’s minimal privacy interest in them.” Citing a previous Florida case, the Fourth District Court stated 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.”
The reasoning of the court was that in creating a social media webpage, the user acknowledges that their personal information will be shared with others. As a result, the expectation that any information put onto the webpage is private is unreasonable. Therefore, the Court of Appeals dismissed Ms. Nucci’s arguments to prevent the interrogatories and requests to produce from Target. The company was granted its requests for Ms. Nucci’s photographs from Facebook, other social media websites, and her phones.
Contact a Florida Slip and Fall Attorney Now
This case is a strong example of how social media can play a role in personal injury claims. If you have questions regarding how this case may affect your claims or have other questions regarding a slip and fall accident that occurred in Orlando, Tampa, Fort Myers, Jacksonville, or West Palm Beach, let the experienced slip and fall accident attorneys at The Pendas Law Firm help. Call the office or contact us today for a free and confidential consultation of your claims.