February 19, 2017

Is a Private Investigator Following You?

private investigatorOver the years I have written articles and recorded videos about insurance company surveillance. As I explain to all of my work injury clients, the minute you give notice of your on-the-job injury to your employer, there is a good chance that your employer’s insurance company will hire a private investigator to follow you, take photos and videos, or even engage you in conversation at a store or doctor’s office in an effort to undermine your claim.

I tell you this not to make you paranoid but to reveal to you the reality of workers’ compensation practice in Georgia.

As you may know if you have read my biography, back in the 1990’s I worked for a large insurance defense law firm located in midtown Atlanta. The lawyers at this firm were and are zealous advocates for their clients and they are very skilled attorneys.  I know from firsthand experience how employers and their insurance companies fight claims.

Your Employer Does Not Believe Your Work Injury Claim is Legitimate

I can also tell you that most of the employer clients and insurance adjusters I spoke to believed sincerely that just about all workers’ compensation claimants exaggerate or completely faked their injuries.  Never forget that employers and insurance companies view your on-the-job injury as an expense to be managed and controlled.  I believe that this attitude remains the prevailing thought process today. Even if a particular insurance defense attorney personally feels that your injury is legitimate, that attorney is paid to contest your claim, not to debate the merits of your case with an insurance adjuster or company owner.

It does not matter what the MRI says, whether you have 10 eyewitnesses to your injury, or whether you have been scheduled for surgery. Insurance adjusters and company management believe that the entire workers’ compensation system is mostly a scam and that even the most seriously injured employees are not being entirely truthful.

This attitude can be difficult for some injured workers to accept, especially if they have had a pleasant and mutually beneficial relationship with their co-workers and supervisors. I can’t tell you how many times a client has said to me “we were like a big family at my job….I can’t understand why they are treating me like this….”

Are fraudulent claims filed by workers? Yes, it does happen.  Personally I do not accept as clients anyone who I sense is actually fraudulently.  I can also say that my 27+ years’ of experience tells me that outright fraud is extremely rare and that most of my seriously injured clients would much prefer to get better and return to work if they could.

Why the Insurance Company Has You Followed

Now that you understand the bias that employers and insurance companies bring to every claim, you can better understand why they are so quick to use private investigators and surveillance. They hope that their investigator can catch you:

  • lifting groceries
  • carrying your children
  • working on your house or car
  • gardening
  • playing sports
  • walking without a limp or appearance of pain

If they can get this visual evidence, they will use it to try to cut you off or to reduce any settlement offer.  I see these videos in most of the cases I handle.  You should assume that at some point during the time you are receiving benefits, you will be followed by a private investigator with a video camera.

Understand as well that this surveillance can extend to any social media platforms you use, including Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, YouTube, etc. – when in doubt, set these accounts to private or, better, delete your profiles.

Now comes word that insurance company private investigators have stooped to a new low. One of my Atlanta area colleagues posted on a lawyer listserv that one of his clients caught an insurance company investigator attaching a GPS (global positioning satellite) device to the underside of the client’s car at 2am. Presumably this GPS device would allow the investigator to follow the claimant around electronically, and track where he went during the day without the cost of personally following the claimant.

My colleague is currently investigating whether this GPS placement activity is even legal, but regardless of the answer to that question, this episode ought to tell you that insurance companies will resort to any and all means available to generate evidence they can use to fight your claim.

You should know about surveillance and private investigator activity so you can avoid the very human trait of pushing yourself if you are having a good day, or putting on a brave face for brief periods of time to reassure your family and friends. Selective editing can make that 5 minute extreme effort on your part seem like you are healthier than you really are, while not showing the 2 days you spent in bed recovering from that trip to the grocery store or to your child’s dance recital.

You can avoid the inaccuracies arising from insurance company surveillance by following your doctor’s treatment and rehabilitation orders carefully, taking all medications as prescribed and limiting your activities to those within the restrictions set out by your doctor.

At its core, workers’ compensation in Georgia remains extremely adversarial and contested so if you want straightforward advice about your case, I invite you to contact me by phone or email.

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Jodi Ginsberg

Attorney Jodi Ginsberg represents employees who are injured on the job and who need medical care and missed wage benefits available under Georgia's workers' compensation laws.

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