Michigan Court of Appeals Finds Social Media Evidence Fatal to Plaintiff’s Claim for PIP Benefits

In a recent unpublished opinion, the Michigan Court of Appeals upheld a Wayne County Circuit Court decision granting the defendant insurance company’s motion for summary disposition where social media evidence made it clear that the plaintiff lied about his need for – and receipt of – household replacement services and attendant care.

In Yousif v. State Farm, the plaintiff was a passenger in an uninsured vehicle driven by his mother. Despite reporting no injuries at the scene, the plaintiff submitted a claim for personal injury protection (PIP) benefits to the Michigan Automobile Insurance Placement Facility (MAIPF), which assigned the claim to State Farm through the Michigan Assigned Claims Plan.

At his deposition more than a year after the accident, the plaintiff claimed that he had constant, severe pain in his head, neck, and lower back. The pain allegedly caused him to be essentially bedridden, and was exacerbated by any movement, including when he was walking and lying down. He also claimed that he was unable to perform any chores or self-care activities, and that his mother provided him with eight hours of nursing care and one hour of replacement services each day, including bathing/showering, shaving, grooming, and bed transfers.

During the same time period that the plaintiff alleged he was disabled, he maintained a Facebook page that showed him attending and completing high school, including a graduation ceremony the same month as the accident, taking road trips to Tennessee, Nevada, and California (enjoying night life in Las Vegas and hiking along rugged terrain), attending a Tigers baseball game, shopping for clothes, and socializing with friends at restaurants, among other activities. There were also videos of the plaintiff dancing and pushing someone down a flight of stairs.

The Michigan Court of Appeals rejected the plaintiff’s characterization of the facts as a question of credibility, holding that the evidence of fraud was overwhelming and even more egregious than the plaintiff’s actions in Bahri v IDS, the seminal case on this issue in Michigan. The Court also upheld the trial court’s ruling based on MCL 500.3173a, which bars recovery where a person makes a fraudulent claim for PIP benefits to the MAIPF. The Court held that, “[g]iven the discrepancy between plaintiff’s statements to State Farm and his actions depicted on social media, plaintiff must have known that his statements were false.”

Without question, this case is a win for no-fault insurance carriers in their fight against fraudulent claims. It is also a win for the use of social media evidence in the defense of personal injury lawsuits. The Michigan Court of Appeals has made it clear that such evidence can be taken at face value and need not be presented to a jury as a question of fact.

An associate in the firm’s Insurance Defense group, Nicole Gettler focuses her practice on first-party no-fault, third-party automobile negligence, fraud, and other matters.