When someone is injured in an accident and they are seeking compensation—either through a personal injury case or a workers’ compensation claim—their injury, the extent of disability, and their physical limitations will all be relevant in determining what and how much compensation is due to the injured party. Aside from medical records, much of the evidence that will be presented will be the injured party’s subjective complaints and explanation about how the injury caused them to suffer. Insurance companies, however, do not just take the injured party’s word. They will most certainly want to investigate.
To challenge an accident victim’s claim for compensation, insurance companies need some evidence to rely on—they cannot just deny claims without justification. Thus, insurers sometimes hire private investigators to conduct surveillance of the injured party. They hope these investigations uncover evidence they can use to deny claims or leverage a lower payout.
The idea of having a private investigator assigned to your case might be unsettling, and it’s understandable if your initial reaction is to be concerned or even afraid when you learn the at-fault party’s insurance company hired a private investigator to follow you after an accident.
Why Do Insurance Companies Hire Private Investigators?
Using a private investigator is not illegal if the investigator follows certain guidelines. The most common investigative tactic used is to simply follow the injured person. A private investigator will drive by or park near the injured party’s home, follow him or her to work, school, or on errands. The investigator will take photos and videos of the injured party. The investigator may also put together a timeline to outline the injured party’s day-to-day activities to contradict what the injured party claims in terms of his or her pain and suffering, or how the injury has impacted his or her life.
Insurance companies want to protect their bottom line, and monitoring for fraudulent claims is a normal part of what they do. A private investigation is more in-depth than simply using video footage (such as from a store or traffic camera) to see what happened during an accident. The private investigator’s job is to dig deeper into an injured person’s background and daily activities, and to do so on an ongoing basis.
Generally, this expensive level of investigation is used in cases where the injury claims are significant and the defense and/or insurance company have reason to suspect exaggeration or fraud. Appropriate surveillance by a private investigator doesn’t involve anything you can’t do yourself, but rather focuses on learning as much about you as possible from publicly available information.
For example, an insurance company’s investigator might:
- Look at your social media profiles
- Follow you at a distance in public areas
- Examine your public records
- Photograph you in public areas
- Monitor your professional profiles or business activities
- Talk to your neighbors, customers, co-workers, or other people you know
- Search for a criminal record
Again, while this can be uncomfortable, it’s completely legal. Smartphones and social media have made it much easier to take pictures, discover who you know, and monitor what you’re up to—and insurance companies take full advantage of this easy access.
What Are Private Investigators Looking For?
The private investigator’s main job is to see if your actions support your personal injury claim. They look very closely for any sign that you’re exaggerating or making up how your injury affects your life to damage your credibility.
For example, say your claim is for a neck and back injury that’s made it very difficult to lift boxes at your job, or your children in your home. A private investigator might watch Facebook for pictures of you holding your toddler, or visit the store where you work, to see if you’re lifting things normally.
An honest investigator might not find a single thing to contradict your claim. Of course, this is ideal for you, and it can backfire on the at-fault party’s defense team. If the surveillance ends up supporting your claim yet is still somehow used in the case, it can weaken the defense and help your case.
What is Off-Limits?
As mentioned, private investigators must follow the law. This is not a criminal investigation, and your privacy must be respected. A private investigator isn’t going to come into your home or invade your private life. The things they may not do include:
- Wiretapping your phone
- Taking pictures/videos through private property windows
- Impersonating police
- Obtaining protected information without consent
Professional investigators do not try to make you feel scared or nervous. In fact, if they’re doing their job well, you might not even know they’re there because they’ll stay at a distance and will not interfere with your life.
Remember: You’re more likely to be investigated if your injuries are serious or rare and your claim is significant. Insurance companies won’t put the cost and time into a private investigator over a minor injury and a low dollar amount.
What You Can Look Out For
Here are a few things to look for if you think you’re being followed by a private investigator:
- A car that seems to suddenly appear in your neighborhood, at the grocery store, etc.
- Increased interest or questions from neighbors, co-workers, etc.
- Repeatedly seeing the same stranger, who never interacts with you, in places you frequent
Insurance companies hire these investigators, so you should hire a lawyer to level the playing field. A skilled personal injury attorney can help make sure you obtain all available damages under the law so you can maximize your recovery.
Serious accidents can result in long periods of medical treatment and recovery time. If you or a loved one suffered an injury in an accident, Miller Trial Law can help you. Please call us today at (305) 697-8312 for a free, no-risk consultation. We look forward to serving you!