Insurance Surveillance Used on Personal Injury Claims
Insurance surveillance is such a fun topic. Fact: insurance fraud is a crime. If you’re making an injury claim, please be sure that you are really hurt. Insurance companies don’t hire a private investigator to track claimants on every case since it is just plain cost prohibitive, but they do it from time to time. If you’re faking an injury, Murphy’s Law increases the chance that you’ll be the one case the insurance adjuster chooses to hire a private investigator for surveillance on that month. And don’t let your guard down. Surveillance is allowed in insurance claims, as is any resulting evidence; anything that can be seen by the public eye is fair game.
One of our favorite cases was handled by an adjuster in Texas in the early 1990’s. The claimant had been hit in the head by a loaded serving tray carried by a waitress, and claimed permanent severe movement limitations in her entire lower body. She showed up for trial in a wheelchair, backed by all of her expert witnesses. The jury returned with a huge verdict against the corporate defendant on a Friday afternoon. The award was to be entered and enforced by the judge on Monday morning. The adjuster and defense attorney met to commiserate over drinks at a local club that evening, and were mildly surprised to see the plaintiff out on the dance floor in four-inch heels. She was celebrating her victory, as well as an apparent miraculous recovery. A quick telephone call to a private investigator and one surveillance video later, the award was thrown out Monday morning. We’re still talking about that case 20 years later.
Something to remember about insurance surveillance is that you don’t need to worry about it unless you are faking your injury or its severity. If you are, shame on you. One of our contributors handled a case once where her private investigator took some pictures of “Johnny” up under his car replacing his brakes and tires and doing lord-knows-what-else. “Johnny’s” attorney had told the adjuster that he was laid up in bed. When she told “Johnny’s” attorney that she had some surveillance photographs which clearly indicated his client was not laid up in bed, he had a conversation with his client, was fired, and “Johnny” was on the telephone wanting to settle. The adjuster never told “Johnny” what she had, but clearly his guilty conscience was eating away at him. He miraculously recovered enough to come to her office to pick up his check in return for a signed release. She stayed past her normal hours to make the exchange in the downstairs lobby, and when she returned to the office, her manager asked her why she was shaking. She said “that wasn’t Johnny in the pictures”. We don’t know what Johnny was doing that he thought she had discovered, and we never will.
Another case that one of our contributors hired a private investigator on produced film of the claimant stealing building materials from his employer while doing construction work that his attorney and doctor said he was unable to do. After settling that claim for an amount that left the claimant unhappy, the surveillance tape was turned over to the District Attorney’s office and theft charges were pursued. The guy also lost his job.
These entertaining stories aside, the majority of cases that insurance companies have hired private investigators on yield little more than a big fat expense bill (at least in our experiences). That is why insurance surveillance really is atypical unless there is a fraud indicator on the case.
This article is written for informational purposes and is not intended to take the place of competent local legal counsel.
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Insurance Surveillance: When to Worry About It and How To Detect It