With the ever increasing popularity of Facebook and other social media websites, multiple Pennsylvania Courts have confronted the issue of whether, and to what extent, the contents of such websites are subject to discovery in a civil action.  Most recently, in the case of Trail v. Lesko, (C.P. Allegheny Cty., July 3, 2012) Judge R. Stanton Wettick, Jr. authored an opinion providing a clear summary and concise overview of the current state of Pennsylvania law surrounding this issue.
In Trail, Plaintiff claimed serious and permanent injuries as a result of a motor vehicle accident that was caused by Defendant.  During discovery, Defendant requested access to Plaintiff’s private Facebook profile and filed a Motion to Compel production of Plaintiff’s login information.  In support of this request, Defendant produced two undated photographs from Plaintiff’s public profile depicting Plaintiff socializing at a bar and drinking at a party, and alleged that it was reasonably likely that they would find additional relevant information concerning the extent and severity of Plaintiff’s injuries within his private profile.
Judge Wettick denied Defendant’s motion, stating that “the intrusions that such discovery would cause were not offset by any showing that the discovery would assist the requesting party in presenting its case.”  In support of his ruling, Judge Wettick first provided an overview of recent Pennsylvania case law relating to this issue stating that a vast majority of courts have “required a party seeking discovery in these cases to articulate some facts that suggest relevant information may be contained within the non-public portions of the profile.”  
Judge Wettick bases his ruling on Pa.R.C.P. No. 4011(b) which serves to bar discovery that would cause “unreasonable annoyance, embarrassment, oppression…”  Although the intrusiveness of most Facebook discovery is minimal due to the public nature of the website, a party seeking such discovery is still required to make a showing that the discovery is “reasonably likely to furnish relevant evidence, not available elsewhere, that will have an impact on the outcome of the case.”  Judge Wettick determined that the photographs contained on Plaintiff’s public profile were insufficient to support such a showing as they were not inconsistent with the injuries claimed by Plaintiff.
To view the Opinion and Order of Court of Trail v. Lesko, click here.
Ian Abovitz is a member of Stark & Stark’s Yardley, PA office, specializing in Accident & Personal Injury Law. For more information, please contact Mr. Abovitz.