Have you filed a personal injury claim? If so, the insurance company may conduct surveillance on you. After reading a recent news article about one insurance company that may have illegally conducted surveillance, I thought I would discuss the topic.
Injured? Surveillance Might Be An Issue.
In Alabama workers compensation cases, surveillance is very common. But, it also occurs in other personal injury cases such as car accident claims. The potential for surveillance is a topic any personal injury lawyer should discuss with his or her clients.
Typically, surveillance involves a private investigator filming you. Maybe the investigator follows you. Maybe the investigator sits in a public area near your home and videos you. Usually the investigator is watching or filming from a public area. We provide our injured clients specific advice concerning potential surveillance. We discuss with our injured clients the likelihood of surveillance, the most frequent ways it occurs and how to handle the issues.
It’s one thing to film someone in public. If you are driving down the road or running through your front yard, anybody on the street could see you. What about situations where an overly zealous insurance company or insurance lawyer takes surveillance a step too far? What about situations where the insurance company may have acted illegally? Can surveillance turn into an illegal trespass or illegal harassment? Let’s look at one recent case.
One recent case involves allegations the private investigators acted illegally. If true, the allegations are very serious. Shocking! What is alleged? A man injured in a car accident claims private investigators actually trespassed on his property to strap hidden cameras to his trees. Even more, he alleges the private investigators placed secret tracking devices on his vehicles. If true, these are likely criminal acts. The accident victim sued the insurance company and law firm that employed the investigators. That law firm was Baker Donelson, a firm with offices and lawyers across the United States. The suit claims the law firm received regular updates from the (possibly illegal) surveillance. If that allegation is true, these lawyers should be punished. And, they should face ethical charges before their bar association. These lawyers clearly know better. This case should get real interesting, real fast!
Ways Surveillance Can Be Used Against You.
I’ve written several times about surveillance in Alabama personal injury cases. Here are a few of my past articles:
How can surveillance be used against you? Obviously, the insurance company wants to use surveillance to show you are not disabled (or not as disabled) as you claim. Surveillance may show you are exaggerating your injuries, that you are capable of more than you claim, or that you are simply not credible.
As always, truth is essential. If you suffer back pain from a car accident but you still try to walk your dog every evening, don’t claim you cannot walk down the street. Be honest. No reasonable judge or juror expects you to exist in a bubble.
When I mention be honest, I also mean don’t be pushed into guessing about your activities. We have one insurance defense lawyer in Huntsville who likes to push people in deposition into guessing about their activities. His goal — When the claimant inevitably guesses wrong, he then argues the person is lying. This defense lawyers will start asking specific questions in deposition — Can you lift 10 pounds, 15 pounds, 20 pounds, 25 pounds, etc.. I’m not a big fan of this lawyer and I think his actions are unethical. I think he makes all lawyers look bad by trying to create issues rather than trying to search for the truth. This lawyer typically has video showing some specific lift amount. So, when he starts excitedly asking about very specific amounts, you know he has video! Most people don’t weigh the objects they lift. Most people think they are trying to be helpful by estimating (guessing) at weights. Don’t do it. When an injured worker inevitably guesses wrong, this lawyer then tries to argue the claimant is a liar or lacks credibility. We’ve seen his questions over-and-over. We counsel our clients about his approach and how properly to handle it.
When we think of surveillance, we typically think of the private investigator videoing someone performing activities. But, surveillance goes beyond the private eye simply watching you in public. Insurance companies also routinely monitor social media for posts and photographs. Surveillance is frequently conducted on social media. That’s easy surveillance in modern times where so many people post everything about their lives. I’ve fired clients who told me one thing but then posted another on social media. Honesty and discretion with your posts are essential! We advise all our injured clients about their use of social media.
How Some Attorneys Approach Surveillance.
As you can tell, I press on the term honesty. Most injured people try to make the best out of their bad situation. The guy with a hurt back does not simply stay motionless in the bed. He tries to do what he can. He makes the most of it. He should. Many people suffer pain from an accident but still do everything they can to care for their families, homes and jobs. I like clients who want to make the best of their disability. Through the years, I’ve counseled countless workers who were badly hurt but tried their very best to keep working as long as possible. I get it. I would too. While some attorneys ignore the possibility of surveillance, we discuss the issues and possibilities with our clients. Step One should include the attorney discussing surveillance possibilities with his or her clients. Yet, some attorneys do not.
Let’s talk about the very few situations where someone outright lies about an injury. It’s very rare but the lawyer has an obligation to pursue the truth. If a person claims to be injured but then outright lies about their abilities, they should not be pursuing a claim. Step Two should include the attorney addressing with his or her client issues of credibility or honesty. Yet, some attorneys do not.
If the insurance company gathers surveillance, we study it. While some attorneys always run from the issue in fear, we believe surveillance is often consistent and compatible with our clients who are hurt, significantly limited, but trying to do the best they can. Step Three involves studying the surveillance and sometimes even featuring the insurance company’s own surveillance in your case. Yet, some attorneys simply run in fear.
Surveillance is a potential issue in every injury case. If you are hurt, make sure you address this issue with your lawyer.
We are Huntsville personal injury lawyers handling cases across Alabama. If you have questions, let us know. We are happy to discuss the law or case strategy. We’ve also tried to provide answers and discussions concerning many personal injury issues on this blog and our website. Our consultations are always confidential and free.