Some injured workers are shocked to discover that their employer or its insurance company has sent a private investigator to watch them or “conduct surveillance.” Although it may seem like an unfair violation of your privacy, this is legal under Pennsylvania law.
Not every injured worker is under surveillance, but an insurance company will often use investigation if they believe that the worker is exaggerating their injury, faking a work injury, or “malingering.”
Malingering means that a worker is drawing out their work injury longer than necessary to avoid going back to work or to get additional benefits. It often is associated with exaggerating a workers’ compensation claim, but it can include things like delaying treatment or declining to follow work restrictions outside of work as well.
In many situations, a private investigator may take whatever you are doing out of context and present it in a bad light. For example, if you have a back injury, the investigatory may get a picture of you playing with your kids in the yard and picking up a child. What they do not get a picture of is your immediate pain response and setting the child down right away. That way, it appears that you have no problem lifting heavier amounts of weight than what your doctor has recommended.
Knowing some of the surveillance tactics that an insurance company may use can help you avoid accusations of workers’ comp fraud.
Tactics That Workers’ Compensation Investigators Use
Every case is different, but a workers’ comp investigator or private investigator may use these methods to monitor you:
- Video surveillance
- Online surveillance
- Direct contact or interviews
- Interviews with co-workers, friends, or family members
One of the most common forms of surveillance is to watch you while you are outside of your house in any public location. Generally, as long as the investigator is not violating your privacy by being in a private location, the surveillance will be permitted. That means that they may watch you in places like:
- Your yard or driveway
- Public parks
- Grocery stores or shopping malls
Any time that someone else could see you, a private investigator may be watching as well.
The insurance company may also conduct surveillance on your social media accounts or through any other online presence as well. Photos and descriptions that you post are also public unless you have severely restricted your privacy settings, and those can be used against you as well. Be very mindful of what you post on your social media, restrict access, or, better yet, stay off of social media while your workers’ compensation case is pending.
The investigator may also use some more direct forms of surveillance, such as speaking with you or talking to your friends and family. The private investigator does not have to tell you that they are working for the insurance company in any conversation with you, so be careful what you say about your treatment or work injury to anyone. If asked, decline to speak with the investigator without talking to your lawyer first.
The surveillance report can sometimes be used as evidence at any trial or hearing. However, it is more often used to give information to a doctor about your abilities or outside of work activities. That information can influence your doctor’s opinion about further medical treatment and whether you are at maximum medical improvement (MMI).
Why Would My Workers’ Comp Case Be Investigated?
In general, the insurance company might conduct surveillance if it suspects that:
- Your claim is not as serious as you say it is.
- You are faking your injury or illness.
- You are working somewhere else other than with your employer.
- Workers’ compensation fraud is occurring.
Suspicion of workers’ compensation fraud is the top reason you may be under surveillance. Fraud can come in many forms, from outright lying about your claim to exaggerating your symptoms or doing activities that make your condition worse.
Insurance companies certainly do not want to pay workers’ compensation benefits to those who do not deserve them. Faking an injury harms the entire workers’ compensation system in Pennsylvania and hurts employees who are actually injured on the job and deserve benefits. It drives up the cost of workers’ compensation insurance and makes insurance companies more stringent when paying funds for claims.
How Do I Know if I’m Under Investigation?
In many cases, you will not know if you are under investigation. Private investigators are trained to be discrete and will try their best to be subtle in most situations. However, there are signs that you might spot that could indicate surveillance.
Seeing the same unusual car outside of your home or following you to the store could really indicate that you are being monitored. If you notice the same vehicle on a regular basis when you go to public places, you may be under surveillance.
Surveillance generally will not be conducted from a law enforcement vehicle. However, insurance fraud is a crime, and the police may get involved if fraud is suspected.
Your friends and family might have contact with someone that would indicate surveillance is being conducted as well. Be sure to ask them to let you know if someone starts asking them about your work injury.
Worried About Being Investigated? Consult a Workers Compensation Attorney
If you are an injured worker, and you feel like you may be under surveillance or investigation, you likely have a problem brewing, even if you are currently getting benefits. Talk to a workers’ compensation attorney about your options.
Our lawyers will be able to evaluate your situation and let you know the most likely reason that you are being investigated and how to address it.
For straightforward and practical legal advice, contact our team. We know how important your work comp benefits are to you and your family while you recover from a work injury. We can help work with you to decrease the likelihood that your claim is denied, even after an investigation.
Learn more by exploring related blog content and resources or scheduling a free consultation with our team.