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Facebook posts cause expert witness to change evidence mid-trial

Social media posts can be used as key evidence disclosed in Court. In the recent Court decision of Knight v CPSM Pty Ltd [2021] QDC 3, social media posts disclosed in Court caused the expert witness to overturn their own evidence mid-trial.

Ms Knight was employed as a personal care assistant at an aged care facility, CPSM Pty Ltd. She claimed she developed a chemical hypersensitivity due to being exposed to the chemical cleaning product “D4”, which she alleged subsequently caused her to develop a psychological condition due to the impact of her physical symptoms.

The main issue in dispute was whether Ms Knight sustained the injuries as described, or at all.

The trial took an interesting turn when the Court heard the evidence of two psychiatrists, Dr Matthew and Dr Shaikh.

Dr Matthew relied on Ms Knight’s history of her limitations arising from her physical condition on her poor level of functioning. He was of the view that the severity of Ms Knight's psychological condition prevented her from undertaking paid employment. That was until the employer's barrister produced two files of Ms Knight's Facebook posts spanning over more than five years, during the time she says she experienced symptoms. After hours of being taken through the posts, Dr Matthew took a short adjournment to reflect on the posts.

The Facebook posts showed the Claimant was capable of participating in multi-day events, was able to organise events including a group mountain climb, and extensively travelled. The posts were inconsistent with her reported symptoms and ability to function.

When he returned, Dr Matthew's view changed profoundly. While he was mindful that Facebook only represented a moment in time and he had not seen every day, he stated, “there was an unresolvable incongruity between the history that I obtained and the extra information he was provided…"

As such, Dr Matthew found Ms Knight was not impaired and had no resulting psychological condition. This changed view meant Dr Matthew's evidence aligned with the evidence of Dr Shaikh.

In the end, the social media evidence was not the reason the Claimant lost her case, as the Court was also not satisfied there was persuasive evidence that the chemical product imposed a risk to employees at the low levels Ms Knight was exposed to and that it could cause Ms Knight's injuries. However, the social media evidence put her credibility in question so much so that the expert completely changed their view. It also led the Court to have significant doubts about Ms Knight's credibility and ultimately found Ms Knight's evidence of her alleged symptoms to be unreliable and inconsistent with her life experiences shown on social media.

While it must be remembered that social media is often a filtered representation of someone's life, this decision is a reminder that social media posts can be critical evidence in a personal injury claim if it contradicts the injured person's allegations about their physical and psychological ability.

Article written by Tony Rosenthal (Partner) and Nadine Wardell (Solicitor).

"The content of this publication is for reference purposes only. It is current at the date of publication. This content does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Legal advice about your specific circumstances should always be obtained before taking any action based on this publication."