A private investigator conducting surveillance is usually a
sign of a desperate insurance adjuster who has no other angle of
attacking your otherwise legitimate right to compensation.
I want to make it very clear that 99.999% of my past and current clients suffered or continue to suffer from real injuries that they sustained from accidents caused by negligent and reckless individuals. However, in extremely rare cases, perhaps a dozen out of the tens of thousands of legitimately injured clients that I have represented, we have had clients, who unknown to us, have claimed to be injured, only to be exposed as liars and fakers through surveillance footage.
While there are notable exceptions, most video surveillance of my clients has been either helpful in proving my point or has proved little to nothing. As scary as it may sound to my clients that they are under surveillance, I can only think of a small handful of occasions where the surveillance was particularly damaging to the outcome of a case.
It is these rare cases that this article will focus on. By sharing these rare cases where our previous clients have been exposed as faking an injury on surveillance footage, I am not condoning, supporting, or conspiring with these "fakers" in any way. At Anderson, Hemmat & McQuinn, we help legitimately injured clients and we would prefer that fakers not bog down the system by bringing false injury claims and take their business elsewhere.
A) Frequency of Surveillance Usage:
Generally, surveillance seems to be on the rise in workers' compensation claims. I would estimate that surveillance is being utilized upwards of 30% of the time in worker's compensation cases. However, in auto accident injury claims, we see surveillance as little as 3-5% of the time.
B) What Surveillance Footage Generally Shows:
Normally, surveillance does not result in the kind of "gotcha" moments that you might see on television programs. Surveillance usually takes the form of a private investigator stationed in a van that is conspicuously parked down the street from a client's house. Usually, the private investigator has a large outdated camera that he will point at the subject client's front door. So, there is nothing meaningful that is going to come out of this type of surveillance unless a client decides to re-sod his front lawn (yes, I had a client who did that).
I also had a client who, in the dead of winter, ran out of his front door every morning in his tighty-whities to collect his newspaper. While embarrassing to the client, this surveillance footage was not harmful to his case.
Other common surveillance tactics that private investigators utilize occur when the private investigator follows a client on his daily errands. We see lots of meaningless video of clients going in and out of grocery stores. Occasionally, we get video of a client carrying a bag or two of groceries. On one occasion, we had a client who claimed that he had a back injury and surveillance footage caught him carrying several 2-liter bottles of soda under each arm up the stairs to his apartment. While this client was a very large man, his herculean task of carrying 16 bottles of soda at one time was not defendable, and Costco's super-sale probably cost this man his case.
On rare occasions, private investigators might have gadgets such as miniature "covert" cameras that will allow them to follow a client around in a store. Our clients shopping at hardware stores tend to be the most difficult for us to defend. Conventional wisdom holds that people with truly injured backs don't lift heavy plywood or ten gallon buckets of roofing tar. Nonetheless, private investigators, more than once, have caught our clients lifting or carrying one or both of these types of items.
C) Where You Won't See Surveillance:
You will never have investigators inside your house, bedroom, or bathroom because private investigators are subject to criminal laws. As a result, insurance companies will never be able to challenge such things like whether or not clients are doing their home exercises on a daily basis.
Please understand these investigators are not the CIA elite or the A-Team. They are generally low-paid security guard types who are handed scant information and told to sit outside a house and follow the occupants. Their equipment is not cutting edge and neither are they. Basically, I submit that unless you are really unlucky or living a lie, these folks are going to document little or nothing out of the ordinary, and certainly nothing worth mentioning at trial. So relax!
D) Special Circumstances - When you Should Expect Surveillance:
Whenever the insurance company is aware that you are going to be at a deposition for your case, or if they send you for a paid medical examination with a doctor of their choosing, you should expect surveillance. I'm fond of advising clients that on those days, from the moment they wake up untill the moment they return to their houses at the end of the day, they should assume that all their activities will be videotaped.
Unfortunately, despite my warnings to clients, I recall having one client who, on the day of an appointment with an insurance doctor, walked to his car from his front door without the aid of a walker or walking stick, and drove to the doctor's office. Once he got to the doctor's office, he struggled to assemble a walker in the parking lot that had not yet been assembled and that had obviously gone unused.
If that's not bad enough, after assembling the walker, he ambled halfway across the parking lot before returning to his car to grab his previously unused neck collar, and slipped it on. Well, I recall showing my client this surveillance footage some weeks later and surprisingly, this client did not see a problem with what he had done. Not surprisingly, he was not my client after that meeting.
I have also had a client leave a doctor examination and proceed to break into a runner's sprint to his car. Also, I had a client who went skiing at A-basin right after she left a medical examination. This surveillance footage was not good for her case. Again, out of the thousands of straight shooters that I have represented, it is the dozen or so fakers whose stories make this article interesting.
E) Other Bone headed Things Caught On Surveillance:
The main message in this article is to be yourself. If you are really hurt, you have nothing to fear from an insurance company's personal investigator and his camera. But, for those of you living a lie, or perhaps not quite being what you claim, you should look elsewhere besides my firm for representation, and you should WATCH OUT! The following is a basic laundry list of other things that my former clients have been caught doing on surveillance:
- Performing shade tree mechanic work on their vehicles
- Launching a boat
- Throwing a Frisbee in the park with a dog
- Running, hiking, and fishing
- Climbing ladders to do roof repair
And my personal favorite of all time….. I once had a client who was unlucky enough to be caught in the act of shoplifting on video by an insurance investigator while her injury insurance claim was pending. Crime doesn't pay, and it certainly won't boost your credibility with an insurance adjuster!
At Anderson, Hemmat & McQuinn, we work hard to represent honest clients with real injuries. Although insurance companies may resort to desperate measures such as video surveillance to defeat your legitimate claim, our clients have nothing to fear from such tactics. Accordingly, if you have been injured as a result of someone else's negligence, please call and speak with one of our attorneys today.