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.

In previous posts, the contributors to this blog have commented on the ever-changing status of Pennsylvania law regarding whether a defendant is entitled to gain access to a plaintiff’s Facebook pages. In the most recent decision on this issue, Judge William J. Manfredi of the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas denied a defendant’s request for access to a plaintiff’s Facebook pages.  Martin v. Allstate Fire and Cas. Ins. Co., No. 110402438 (C.P. Phila, Dec. 13, 2011).

At first glance, this decision seems to be a huge win for plaintiff’s, cutting against the growing trend in Pennsylvania of allowing access to social media websites.  However, upon closer inspection, this may not be the case.  Judge Manfedi’s ruling seems to center around the fact that the defendant failed to identify any information contained on the plaintiff’s Facebook site that would warrant further discovery.  In other words, this ruling will not serve to prevent defendants from gaining access to Facebook where they are able to identify such information.

The bottom line is it is still incredibly important to be careful what you post on Facebook and also to monitor what is being posted about you.  A seemingly innocent post by a friend on your wall or a comment on a photo may be enough to allow a defendant to gain full access to your Facebook site.  It is also advisable to adjust your Facebook privacy settings to limit the amount of information that is visible to the public.

At Stark & Stark, we always make it a point to discuss the use of Facebook, and other social mediums, during our initial client interview and intake process. We counsel our clients to be very careful as to what they post on these sites and remind them that this information could be obtained by the defendants. We also instruct our clients not delete or alter any existing posts.

Ian Abvoitz is a member of Stark & Stark’s Yardley, PA office, specializing in Accident & Personal Injury Law. For more information, please contact Mr. Abovitz.

In previous posts, I have written about the ever-evolving status of Facebook discovery in Pennsylvania. To briefly summarize, Pennsylvania Courts have generally held that the party seeking discovery of Facebook contents must make a threshold showing of relevance that an individual’s Facebook account is likely to contain relevant information before conducting further discovery. Such a showing is most commonly made through the discovery of relevant information within an individual’s public Facebook profile. A recent decision out of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania lends some clarity regarding the limits of Facebook discovery even after a threshold showing of relevance has been made.

In the case of In re Milo’s Kitchen Dog Treats, Civil Action No. 12-1011 (WD PA 2015), a class of Plaintiffs alleged that their dogs were harmed by treats manufactured by Milo’s. One such Plaintiff, Lisa Mazur, posted a Facebook entry on her public profile in which she allegedly blamed another manufacturer’s dog treat for the harm to her dog. Upon discovering this, Defendants sought further information from Mazur’s private Facebook profile.

Continue Reading Defendants Not Entitled to “Limitless” Access to Plaintiff’s Facebook Account