Make no mistake about it – if you injure yourself at work, the workers’ compensation insurance company for your employer is not your friend. They are in business to make money and want to pay out as little money as they can on each claim, including yours. There are numerous tools in their arsenal to limit how much money they will have to pay in lost wages and medical bills. They will schedule evaluations with doctors, and based on the results, may file a petition to terminate your benefits. Your employer may then offer you your regular job back or a light-duty position and if you don’t return, the insurance may file a petition to suspend your benefits.
Another trick up the sleeve of insurance companies is hiring a private investigator to conduct surveillance on people who have filed workers’ comp. claims. They hope that the investigator will film the person involved in some physical activity, such as carrying firewood into their home, raking leaves, or shoveling snow. The insurance company’s lawyer will then argue that the person who is claiming an injury to, say, the back, knee, or shoulder, must not be disabled and therefore should not be entitled to workers’ comp. benefits. Have insurance companies stopped hiring investigators to conduct surveillance during the pandemic? Not by a long shot.
The insurance company is not going to let up despite the national COVID-19 crisis. They will not hesitate to send an investigator to your home who will park outside your home and videotape you when you leave your home. If you get in your car and drive to the grocery store, the investigator may follow you and wait for you in the parking lot. If you come out with a cartful of groceries and start to load cases of bottled water and large bags of dog food into your trunk, and the investigator will undoubtedly be videotaping you. Then you may be followed home and filmed while you carry the groceries into your home. On your way into the house, you drag in the trash cans from the curb, and of course the investigator will catch that too.
How exactly will the insurance company use the surveillance in your case? Suppose that you have injured your back and you testify before the Workers’ Compensation Judge that you’re in so much pain that you cannot lift more than 10 pounds, have difficulty bending, and you use a cane to help you walk whenever you leave the house. You want to help your spouse by taking care of the grocery shopping and because your back is not in as much pain as usual one day, you decide to go to the store and leave your cane at home. You figure that it will only take an hour and you’re not doing anything too strenuous so it should not aggravate your back, nor should it jeopardize your case. Unfortunately, the insurance company’s lawyer will submit the videotape to the Judge, who might be skeptical, thinking that your activities (lifting more than 10 pounds, bending repeatedly to put groceries in your trunk and then take them out, and walking without a cane) exceed what you stated you are capable of doing when you gave a deposition.
Eventually – unless your case settles – the Judge will write a decision in your case and in doing so will make a determination as to whether your testimony is credible or not credible. If your testimony is contradicted by your activities depicted on the surveillance videotape, the Judge may be more inclined to find you not credible and rule against you. We recognize that even when you are injured in the middle of a pandemic, you want to get out of the house occasionally. That is completely understandable. But if you do, you need to be aware that an investigator could be videotaping you. Furthermore, when it comes time for the insurance company lawyer to evaluate your case for settlement and recommend how much money they should offer, the amount may be lower if they have caught you on surveillance doing something.
Also, you have to be mindful that if you post something about what you have done on Facebook or one of the other social media sites, the insurance company may see it. So let’s say, in order to get out of town for a few days, you take a road trip to visit family. You then post “Had a great time visiting my uncle and aunt in Boston.” If you testified before the Judge that your back injury is so painful that you can only take short drives – less than an hour – but then drove six hours each way to and from Boston, the Judge may have doubts about whether your back is as bad as you say it is. Of course, we’re not discouraging you from seeing family members, especially during these tough times, but just remember it could come back to bite you. And even if you don’t go on social media and make a post about your trip, you may be asked questions by the insurance company lawyer at a hearing before the Judge or at a deposition as to whether you have taken any trips out of the area since you sustained your work injury. You will have to answer truthfully. If on the one hand, you have stated that car trips of longer than an hour are not tolerable because of your back injury, and then you make a six-hour drive, that is not likely to look good.
If you have hurt yourself on the job, the possibility that the insurance company may conduct surveillance on you, even during the pandemic, could be another stressor for you. At Pearson Koutcher Law, we understand how stressful it is for someone to deal with a workers’ comp. claim. First you injure yourself, cannot work, and are experiencing pain on a daily basis, which requires you to treat with doctors and take medication. Second, the insurance company is challenging your entitlement to benefits, claiming that your injury is minor and that you are able to work. Then you suffer the indignity of being followed by a private investigator and you feel like you are being treated like a criminal. It is not easy to go through a workers’ comp. claim, and if you do, you need a top workers’ comp. lawyer by your side. Every lawyer at our firm has been representing injured workers for more than 20 years and has handled countless cases. We will vigorously represent you and fight the insurance company every step of the way. Please call us for a free comprehensive evaluation – we look forward to hearing from you.