One of the most common questions I am asked by my clients is whether the insurance company will conduct videotaped surveillance of them after they file a claim. The answer is Yes, and often! Just ask Jack “Rocky” Whitten who was taped by The Hartford eating a taco. Rocky lost his disability benefits he had obtained due to a broken neck after paying his premiums for years while working as the Manager of a Wal-Mart. While Mr. Whitten’s case involved a long-term disability plan, the same tactics are used in workers’ compensation claims.
The insurance companies will use the tapes for many reasons. The surveillance is almost always used to intimidate claimants into settling their case for less than they should. However, the insurance company will also show the tapes to your doctor to try to persuade their diagnosis and to the judge in order to influence the outcome of the hearing. In the most extreme cases, the insurance company may even try to press charges against you for insurance fraud as was the case with a Quakertown, Pennsylvania woman who lied about a second job she had as an exotic dancer.
How do you know if you are being watched? The private investigator will usually set up a post outside of your residence in an unmarked car and wait for you to come outside. The P.I. will follow you if you drive anywhere and tape you getting in and out of your car, filling your car up with gas, loading your car with groceries, putting your child in their car seat, or even eating a taco. It is okay to do those things, but make sure you are not moving or lifting in a manner that would seem inconsistent with your injury. This is true even if you have not hired an attorney or even filed your claim for workers’ compensation benefits.
Do not assume your injury is too small or insignificant for the insurance company to justify hiring a P.I. In my years of practicing workers’ compensation, I would estimate that approximately 95% of cases have some form of surveillance at some point in time. Further, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics stated than that in 2008, there were 45,500 private investigators actively employed in the U.S. , and that number is estimated to increase by 1,000 every year through 2018. So be on the lookout for a strange car parked across the street from your house or a car following you home after a doctor’s appointment, physical therapy session, or even after a deposition. This is the oldest trick in the book for workers’ compensation adjusters. Be aware, but conduct yourself as you normally would given your symptoms. If you do notice a P.I. do not confront them or waive to the camera. Remain calm and go about your business. This is your case, protect it.