Surveillance. If you have a workers’ compensation claim, you should expect it. What should you know about workers’ compensation claims and surveillance? Here are a few thoughts.
A Few Ways Surveillance Can Be Used Against You
- To Show You Are NOT Disabled. Many hurt people have good days and bad days. While an investigator may conduct days or weeks of surveillance, it will never be seen. Only a few moments will be on video – the few moments when you were at your best. This is all the insurance carrier needs to create doubt at trial. My advice: Be honest from the start about your condition. If you have good and bad days, tell the truth. And, avoid activities that worsen your pain.
- To Show You Are Exaggerating Your Problems. Again, be honest. If you have trouble lifting heavy objects, that’s OK. But, don’t exaggerate by claiming you cannot lift anything at all. Surveillance can be used to show you exaggerated legitimate injuries.
- To Show You Are Capable Of Doing More Than The Doctor’s Restrictions. Physical restrictions are an important issue in workers’ compensation cases. If the doctor restricts you from certain activities and you do them anyway, surveillance can be powerful evidence. You can expect the insurance carrier to show the surveillance to your doctor in an effort to impact his opinions.
- To Show You Are Not Credible. Surveillance is about credibility – your credibility. As the injured claimant, your credibility is the most important issue in the case.
A Few Surveillance Stories
Usually, surveillance is created by investigators who post themselves outside your home and follow you. Yet, that’s not always the case. I’ve seen many unusual instances of surveillance. Several stories stand out. Each presents an important lesson.
- The Missing Dog. Here, the investigator approached our client’s home and rang her doorbell. When she opened her door, the investigator claimed his dog had run into her back yard. The video showed him pleading for help. He wanted our client to come outside and help search. She reluctantly did so. The video showed her performing several activities beyond her restrictions simply trying to help. The Lesson: Never exceed your restrictions.
- The Mistaken Identity. This investigator had great video. It showed a person lifting huge tires, repairing a car, performing yard work, helping a neighbor, and lifting several other heavy objects. Yet, there was one HUGE problem. The guy on tape was not the injured client. It was his brother. The investigator had followed the wrong guy. The Lesson: The investigator does not always get it right.
- The Shiny Car. This young man suffered a terrible back injury. He was truly limited from work. He spent most of the day in great pain, unable to function. Before his injury, he rebuilt a beautiful antique car. It sat proudly in his driveway. After the injury, his brother agreed to wash it regularly for him. Occasionally (right after spinal injections providing temporary relief), the young man would take a cloth and wipe the car. He could only do this for a few minutes. Of course, the video only showed the few minutes when he appeared fine. The Lesson: A few good minutes can impact your claim.
- The Meltdown. After several surgeries, this client was left in chronic pain. He could no longer work. He was depressed. And, the investigator had been watching his house for weeks. Our advice here is to call the police and report a strange vehicle / person outside your home. However, this client did not call the police. He became enraged at the investigator and threatened him with a gun (all on film). The Lesson: Control your reactions.
A Final Thought About Surveillance And Alabama Law
Alabama courts have provided employers (and their insurance carriers) with a huge advantage on the issue of surveillance. If you file a workers’ compensation lawsuit, the lawyers for your employer will eventually take your deposition. And, Alabama court decisions allow the employer (and its insurance carrier) to withhold any surveillance video until after your deposition. This means you must first answer questions before seeing the videotape. This is another reason why you need legal counsel who knows workers’ compensation law and is willing to work hard for you.