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PA Court Holds Instagram Account Discoverable

March 30, 2018

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<p style="text-align: justify;">Pennsylvania law on the discoverability of social media records remains in flux, but a recent decision involving an auto accident and Instagram photos gives some guidance to circumstances in which a party may be compelled to provide discovery pertaining to social media content.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">In <a href=""><em>Kelter v. Flanagan</em></a>, plaintiff filed suit after suffering injuries in an automobile accident. Following the deposition of the plaintiff, defendant filed a motion to compel, seeking log-in information to plaintiff’s Instagram account.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Pennsylvania law states that relevant information may be obtained in discovery unless it is privileged. As held in previous cases, social networking accounts can be discoverable if it appears that they likely contain information that could be relevant, supported by the fact that there does not appear to be an expectation of privacy for social media accounts as because the account holder is sharing information with others in a public or quasi-public domain.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">In this case, plaintiff had publicly viewable Instagram posts showing her engaged in various physical activities after the accident. The posts included references to the plaintiff shoveling snow and going to the gym after the accident, although in her testimony she claimed that her injuries made her unable to engage in these activities. The judge explained that the posts were certainly relevant to establish the extent of her injuries and the success of her rehabilitation.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">The defendant asked for further discovery on plaintiff’s Instagram account, but plaintiff opposed, arguing that defendants already had access to all of the information because her Instagram posts at the time of the deposition were maintained in a public account. The defendant argued that the plaintiff could switch her account to private access at any time, leaving the defendant with no access to the information contained in the posts. The defendant also raised concerns that previously public posts could be deleted.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">The court found that the facts of this case established that there may be other relevant information about the plaintiff’s injuries contained in her Instagram account. The judge explained that the fact that there were some available public posts for a period of time did not eliminate the need for full access to plaintiff’s account, as the account could be converted to a private account, blocking the defendant’s access to the information. The judge further instructed the plaintiff not to remove any content from her Instagram account and defense counsel shall not share information gathered from plaintiff’s account with anyone not involved in the case.</p>
Thanks to Chelsea Rendelman for her contribution to this post and please write to <a href="mailto:">Mike Bono</a> with any questions.


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