“Don’t talk about your case.” Nearly all attorneys advise clients not to discuss ongoing legal matters. But why?
In a criminal case the reason is obvious. Any statement made by a person of interest can easily be turned around by prosecutors and used against him or her.
But in a civil case what’s the problem? There are many reasons never to discuss a case. Some have been the focus of other blog articles. Here’s another reason.
Social Media Posts & Civil Litigation
Consider a Florida man embroiled in an employment case. He had been headmaster of a private high school and brought a claim when his contract was not renewed. He claimed his non-renewal amounted to age discrimination and retaliation under the state Civil Rights Act.
The bitter dispute finally settled. The case was closed and three settlement checks were ready to go out.
Statements After Settlement – Still Dangerous?
The former headmaster’s daughter had been a student at the same school, the Gulliver Schools. She had been drawn into bad feelings swirling around the case. So the parents told her privately that the case was settled and that they were happy with the result.
The daughter turned around and posted this on Facebook:
“Mama and Papa Snay won the case against Gulliver. Gulliver is now paying for my vacation to Europe this summer. SUCK IT”
Actual Facebook Post
That Facebook posting went out to approximately 1200 of the daughter’s Facebook friends. Many were either current or past Gulliver students.
The school claimed foul, pointing to a confidentiality agreement included in the settlement. The provision prohibited any disclosure or other communication to anyone about the settlement.
An appeals court agreed, holding that telling the daughter, whose computer posting essentially announced a successful age discrimination and retaliation case against the school, breached the confidentiality agreement. That Facebook posting cost the former headmaster $80,000 out of the settlement. The case is Gulliver Schools v. Snay, decided by the Third District Court of Appeal in Florida on February 26, 2014.
Don’t Talk About Your Case. Before, During or After.
In another blog I’ve given reasons why confidentiality agreements are a bad idea. But, where there is one, or if a case is already settled and the release included a confidentiality agreement, any communication can be dangerous, whether talk, social media or otherwise.
In the beginning of a case, when facts are still being investigated, the highly charged atmosphere can be poisoned by unwitting talk about the case. The case discussed above shows that a settlement can be destroyed by computer postings. But even in between, with depositions pending, statements being made and insurance companies looking for any possible reason to deny or minimize a case, the best advice an attorney can give is “don’t talk about your case.”
The best thing any client can do is to take that advice.