Posted in Car Accidents on October 5, 2022
When you’ve been in an accident and filed a claim, the last thing you’d expect is for your insurance company to spy on you. You are hurt, and you need reimbursement to pay for your expenses. Isn’t that how insurance is supposed to work? Sometimes, however, insurance companies are so determined to prevent fraud that they can go to extreme and possibly illegal lengths to make sure claims are valid.
Take the case of Alicia Micallef. While working at her job, she hit her head on an open door in an employee locker room and suffered a concussion. She filed for workers’ compensation and followed all the procedures for receiving benefits, but the insurance company thought she was exaggerating. They had her followed, secretly videotaped her and accused her of lying about the injuries. It took years for her to be acquitted, and even then, she was denied the benefits she deserved.
While it may seem that this shouldn’t be legal, it’s surprising what insurance companies can do to protect themselves from fraud. Although it’s fair for them to investigate and be sure of the validity of a claim, their actions can sometimes be illegal. So while insurance companies can spy on claimants, the question is, what can you do when they cross the line and violate your rights?
In Louisiana, the law protects an insurance company’s right to investigate fraud before paying a claim. Companies are able to hire private investigators to video and photograph you in any public place. They can also, within limits, gather photos and videos of you at home. Their purpose is to verify that you are as injured as you claim to be.
The private investigator will try to show how you might be doing activities that your doctor has advised against. They want to catch you doing anything you claim you cannot do due to your injury. Information gathering like this is especially common after car crashes and workplace accidents.
Sometimes, these fraud investigations can work in your favor. Finding proof can ensure a criminal is prosecuted if you’ve been the victim of insurance fraud. In April 2022, four people pled guilty to staging accidents in New Orleans with commercial trucks to scam the trucking companies into paying damages. Investigations can benefit the public by preventing schemes like this from continuing.
However, when the camera is turned on you, it can be helpful to know when an insurance company has crossed the line into illegal actions.
An insurance company can ask someone to follow and photograph you in any public area or store. They can follow you (without interfering with your movement) on foot or in a car. While you can ask them to leave you alone, you don’t have a legal expectation of privacy. They can even monitor your actions at your home, provided they aren’t invading spaces where you do have an expectation of privacy, such as bathrooms and bedrooms.
Another place you should expect privacy is visiting with your attorney. If you can show that the investigator is filming you at your lawyer’s office, your lawyer could pursue legal action against them. Insurance investigations are not simply an effort to verify your claim. They often try to damage your credibility and reduce the amount they have to pay.
Private investigators will use all kinds of underhanded techniques to lure you into performing an activity outside your doctor’s limitations. They do not operate on a workday schedule. They can and will follow you all hours of the day or night. Because they can video you at home, they may catch you forgetting yourself and lifting a package that is heavier than recommended.
If you live alone or have dependents, you may be forced to engage in some actions because there’s no one else to do it. If you’re the only person who can mow the lawn, an investigator will not care about that. They will show the footage to the insurance adjusters, and it will be used to reduce or deny your claim.
Other common tricks include setting up situations to trap you, such as:
Some of these may be considered legal, while others can easily cross the line. It’s hard to know when the investigator is engaging in criminal behavior. A qualified attorney can help you interpret the situation and respond through the courts.
The first step is to consult with an experienced accident lawyer who understands the type of case you have. They will negotiate with insurance adjusters to get the best settlement, including monitoring any surveillance and investigators. A good attorney will “watch the watchers” and make sure your rights are protected.
Knowing that someone is following you and recording your every move is extremely stressful. This is an added burden when you are already injured and dealing with your physical recovery. The awareness that you are being spied on can add psychological harm to what you’re already facing.
You can fight back against spying and avoid weakening your claim by following these recommendations:
It’s crucial that you follow the guidelines set out by your doctor and take your lawyer’s advice on how to behave. Doing so can limit the risk of the insurance company getting any benefit from their efforts to spy on you. When all else fails, you may need the help of a lawyer for a bad-faith case against the insurance company if they refuse to pay.