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'Be careful of random friend requests' - Lawyers warning injury clients about private investigators and social media

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Dropped case: TD Maria Bailey withdrew her injury claim after the Irish Independent revealed how social media posts said she ran a 10km race. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Dropped case: TD Maria Bailey withdrew her injury claim after the Irish Independent revealed how social media posts said she ran a 10km race. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire

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Dropped case: TD Maria Bailey withdrew her injury claim after the Irish Independent revealed how social media posts said she ran a 10km race. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Some personal injury solicitors are now warning clients about private investigators - and telling them to set their social media accounts to private as "photos can lead to very difficult questions".

As Ireland continues to suffer from the effects of a claims culture and ongoing insurance crisis, we reveal how some solicitor firms are now advising clients about private investigators.

An Irish Independent reporter attended consultations with nine legal firms across the country and received written and oral advice about private investigators from five solicitors.

Personal injury claims have previously been dismissed before the courts after the defence produced social media content showing claimants dancing, playing football and competing in body-building competitions after allegedly suffering serious injuries.

Other claimants have withdrawn their claims after Facebook and Instagram photos were shown in court.

One firm told the undercover reporter: "One is posed with very difficult questions in order to try and explain themselves when they say they can't do certain tasks due to an injury but at the same time they are seen to be enjoying themselves.

"In order to stop this and to protect you we wish to advise that you should immediately check your Facebook/social media platforms security settings and set them to private.

"Be very careful when accepting 'friend' requests from people you do not know."

Another Dublin-based solicitor said: "If you claim that you can do no work but in fact have done some work occasionally, it is very possible that private investigators will have photographed you.

"It is therefore vitally important to you that you do not discuss your case or engage in conversation generally, especially with people who are not known to you."

A midlands-based solicitor also warned clients that investigators will likely photograph them, adding that "if a case is struck out, then we reserve the right to recover all costs against you".

"It is likely at all times that a private investigator will be retained by the defendants so it is important that you keep me advised if you are involved in any sporting activities, exercising programmes," they said.

Fine Gael TD Maria Bailey recently withdrew an injury claim after falling from a swing in a Dublin hotel. The Irish Independent revealed how social media posts show she took part in a 10km race three weeks after the fall.

Court papers described her as a "keen runner prior to the accident but could not run at all for three months post-accident and has had to reduce her activities significantly since".

Ms Bailey later dropped the claim after coming under political pressure.

When asked about certain firms offering advice about private investigators and social media posts, the Law Society of Ireland said it couldn't comment due to "legal reasons".

However, a spokesperson said: "Solicitors have a duty of care to their clients and are obliged to act in the best interests of their clients.

"Solicitors are also officers of the court and, therefore, also have a duty to assist the court in the administration of justice and should not deceive, or knowingly or recklessly, mislead the court."

Neil McDonnell, CEO of ISME, said he has received anecdotal evidence from business owners that a degree of ‘coaching’, as opposed to giving legal advice, is taking place.

"We view this as highly improper, but it is extremely hard to detect, and lawyer-client communications are privileged.

"The Irish courts are so demonstrably pro-plaintiff. As the regulatory body for solicitors in Ireland, we believe the Law Society should be auditing representative numbers of client files to establish if coaching is taking place.”

Irish Independent