Do Insurance Companies Hire Private Investigators?

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The idea of a having a private investigator assigned to your case might be unsettling, especially when it has to do with a car accident, slip and fall, or other incident that wasn’t your fault.

While it’s true that insurance companies sometimes hire private investigators to gather information on people filing personal injury claims, it doesn’t mean they’re going to invade your privacy or hurt your case.

In this article, we’ll outline how insurance companies use private investigators in personal injury cases. We’ll also set your mind at ease by discussing how experienced attorneys help present your case in the best possible light.

Understanding Surveillance After a Personal Injury Claim

It’s understandable if your initial reaction is to be concerned or even afraid when you learn the at-fault party’s insurance company hired a private investigator to follow you after an accident. In fact, people often assume such surveillance is unethical and illegal.

Using a private investigator is not illegal if the investigator follows certain guidelines (which we’ll specify in a bit). Insurance companies want to protect their bottom line, and monitoring for fraudulent claims is a normal part of what they do. Surveillance also weeds some fraudulent cases out of the already overwhelmed court system.

This kind of investigation is more in-depth than simply using video footage (such as from a store or traffic camera) to see what actually happened during an accident. The private investigator’s job is to dig deeper into an injured person’s background and activities, and to do so on an ongoing basis.

Generally, this expensive level of investigation is used in cases where the injury claims are significant and the defense and/or insurance company have reason to suspect exaggeration or outright fraud.

Appropriate surveillance by a private investigator doesn’t involve anything you can’t do yourself, but rather focuses on learning as much about you as possible from publicly available information.

For example, an insurance company’s investigator might:

  • Look at your social media profiles
  • Follow you at a distance in public areas
  • Examine your public records
  • Photograph you in public areas
  • Monitor your professional profiles or business activities
  • Talk to your neighbors, customers, co-workers, or other people you know
  • Search for a criminal record

Again, while this can be uncomfortable, it’s completely legal and something insurance companies do all the time. In recent years, smart phones and social media have made it far easier to take pictures, discover who you know, and monitor what you’re up to, and the insurance companies take full advantage of that easy access.

What Are Private Investigators Looking For?

The private investigator’s main job is to see if your actions support what you say in your personal injury claim. They look very closely for any sign that you’re exaggerating or even making up how your injury affects your life to damage your credibility.

For example, say your workers’ compensation claim is for a neck and back injury that’s made it very difficult to lift boxes at your job or children in your home. A private investigator might watch Facebook for pictures of you holding your toddler, or visit the store where you work, to see if you’re lifting things normally.

An honest investigator might not find a single thing to contradict your claim. Of course, this is ideal for you, and it can backfire on the at-fault party’s defense team. If the surveillance ends up supporting your claim yet is still somehow used in the case, it can weaken the defense and help your case.

What Is Off-Limits to Private Investigators?

As mentioned, private investigators must follow the law. This is not a criminal investigation, and your privacy must be respected.

Let us put your mind at ease: A private investigator isn’t going to come into your home or invade your private life. The things they may not do include:

  • Wiretapping your phone
  • Taking pictures/video through private property windows
  • Trespassing
  • Impersonating police
  • Obtaining protected information without consent
  • Pretending to be someone they are not to get close to you

Professional investigators do not try to make you feel scared or nervous. In fact, if they’re doing their job well, you might not even know they’re there because they’ll stay at a distance and do not interfere with your life.

How Do I Know I’m Being Watched by a Private Investigator?

Like we said, private investigators prefer to go undetected, and so they hide in plain sight and blend in with the crowd. However, a few subtleties might alert you to their surveillance.

Remember: You’re more likely to be investigated if your injuries are serious or rare, your claim is significant, and/or you’re asking for a lot of money. Insurance companies won’t put the cost and time into a personal investigator over a sprained wrist and a few thousand dollars.

Here are a few things to look for if you think you’re being followed by a private investigator:

  • A car that seems to suddenly appear in your neighborhood, at the grocery store, near the gas station, etc.
  • Increased interest and/or questions from neighbors, co-workers, etc.
  • Repeatedly seeing the same stranger, who never interacts with you, in places you frequent

We can’t stress enough that, if it is in fact a private investigator, this is not something to fuel paranoia or fear. Simply ignore their presence and live life as you normally do.

Personal Injury Surveillance Investigations and Independent Medical Examinations

Independent medical examinations (IMEs) are medical evaluations performed by professionals not associated with your case in any way. Their purpose is to secure an unbiased assessment of your injuries and general medical state.

At-fault parties’ insurance companies may order IMEs on the suspicion that your own doctor might be biased in your favor. The thing is, there’s no way to know for sure if the insurer’s doctor isn’t going to be biased in their favor. The point is to recognize that the at-fault insurance company will likely use an IME to reduce your claim.

When you are scheduled to take an IME, you’re more likely to be watched by a private investigator shortly before and after the exam itself. Any surveillance recorded may go back to the IME-performing doctor for additional statements.

RELATED: How Do I Prove My Pain and Suffering After an Accident?

Don’t Confuse Online/Digital and Electronic Surveillance

Even if you haven’t noticed any strangers or vehicles that always seem to be around, it doesn’t mean you aren’t on a private investigator’s radar. As mentioned earlier, online and digital surveillance are easier than ever.

In addition to paying close attention to your social media and other online profiles, private investigators may use a phone, body cam, or other subtle device to digitally record you in public places, from a store to a café to a lobby.

It’s important to understand the difference between online/digital surveillance and electronic surveillance. Electronic surveillance looks at a person’s digital footprint, such as their text messages and internet browsing history. It also involves things like wiretapping (listening to phone conversations).

Electronic surveillance is complicated, expensive, and invasive; it’s not the sort of thing private investigators will do in a personal injury case.

Protect Yourself and Your Case During Insurance Company Surveillance

We understand that being watched by insurance companies and private investigators can be unsettling, no matter the specifics of your personal injury case.

Fortunately, personal injury claimants can protect their cases by taking the following steps and precautions:

  • Tell the truth from the beginning, and you’ll have nothing to hide.
  • Disclose any previous injuries to your doctors and attorneys, even if they seem unrelated.
  • Don’t exaggerate your injuries when you think a private investigator is watching; the exaggeration can be obvious and detrimental.
  • Never post about the accident or your injuries on social media as anything you say could be used against you. Consider making your profiles private or even disabling them for the time being.
  • Don’t look paranoid about being watched. Do your best to act as you always have out in public.
  • Be aware during the days before and after an IME, as you’re more likely to be under surveillance at those times.
  • If you still feel nervous, take a friend or family member with you when you leave the house. They can distract you with conversation and remind you to grab medical aids you don’t usually need, like a cane or medication.
  • Work with an experienced personal injury attorney who knows how to refute unfounded claims made by private investigators.

RELATED: Answers to Frequently Asked Personal Injury Questions

References

Al Jazeera Investigative Unit. (2017, April 10). Spy merchants: What is electronic surveillance? Al Jazeera. Retrieved from https://www.aljazeera.com/features/2017/4/10/spy-merchants-what-is-electronic-surveillance

How video surveillance is used in personal injury cases. (n.d.). HG.org. Retrieved from https://www.hg.org/legal-articles/how-video-surveillance-is-used-in-personal-injury-cases-38998

Surveillance cameras—Where is it legal to place them? (n.d.). HG.org. https://www.hg.org/legal-articles/surveillance-cameras-where-is-it-legal-to-place-them-35154

[View source.]

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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