Mind Your Ps and Qs Online: Social Media Opens Up a Whole New World of Liability Exposures for Individuals and Insurance Companies

According to research by Gen Re, in 1993, only 12% of U.S. homes had Internet access. By 2011, over 77% had Internet access. With the explosive growth of blogs; so-called “gripe sites” where people can criticize a product, service, corporation or organization; and social media sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter (and those are just the big ones), we all have far more liability exposure than perhaps we did even five years ago. Our exposure to lawsuits for defamation, libel, privacy violation, and trademark or copyright infringement have increased exponentially along with social media and other online activity. We even might be at risk from the texts we send.

We have to know how to protect ourselves from potential lawsuits, first by being aware of the liability issues and adjusting our behavior accordingly, and second by working with our insurance agents to make sure we have coverage (where available) to protect us in the event of a claim.

According to the Insurance Information Institute, traditional homeowners insurance policies include liability protection for lawsuits for bodily injury or property damage, while coverage for libel and slander related to online activities may be limited and vary by company and by state. Personal umbrella or excess liability policies provide broader protection, including claims for libel and slander as well as higher liability limits, but many companies also limit their exposure to online liability claims because the case law is still evolving and uncertain, and because it is all so new, difficult to control and hard to predict.

As of 2012, the amount of litigation had not yet risen to reflect the amount of online activity. But there have been hefty defamation verdicts handed down in recent years, in addition to cases that were settled out of court. Insurance companies know one thing: juries have shown a willingness to award significant damages to plaintiffs in these types of cases.

Talk to us about your risk for lawsuits stemming from your online activities. Have you considered the ramifications of what you say online? Do you know how to protect yourself? Contact us today to discuss how personal umbrella insurance or other types of coverage can offer some peace of mind.