What is Post-Accident Surveillance in Personal Injury Claims?

March 20 2020 | Personal Injury Lawyer Blog
  • Is your personal injury claim being probed by a private investigator hired by an insurance company? Read our blog to learn the limits of such post-accident surveillance and how to respond.

    Consider the following scenario: You have been injured in a car crash. Since the accident wasn’t your fault, you filed a third-party insurance claim with the insurance company representing the driver liable for your injuries.

    The process seemed to go smoothly enough. The insurer didn’t question your version of events and assigned you an insurance adjuster who seemed fair and reasonable. You provided the adjuster with the estimates of your financial losses. The insurance company then informed you that they would inspect the information you provided and get back to you with a settlement offer.

    That’s when some odd things started happening. At first, you thought you might have been imagining it. After all, you were recovering from post-accident stress, exhaustion, and a mild concussion. After a while, though, you became certain. You noticed a car had been following you. Curiously, the same car always seemed to be parked on your street, and you got that eerie feeling that you were being watched.

    Concerned, you contacted a lawyer who told you that the insurer with whom you filed a claim has likely put a private investigator on the case.

    Is this scenario far-fetched? Hardly.

    How Real is Post-Accident Surveillance?

    Post-accident surveillance is not only legal but is also a common practice employed by many insurance companies.

    They may do this for various reasons. Private investigators may be hired to help the insurers verify claims and weed out frivolous ones. Often, insurance companies want to gather information that will allow them to question or minimize the validity of a particular claim and play down a victim’s injuries, so they may pay the least amount of compensation possible.

    Limits of Post-Accident Surveillance

    If you’re worried that the private investigators hired to probe your insurance claim will wiretap your home, bug your phone, or perform any other spy-movie tricks, you can relax—they cannot legally do all that. Private investigators and surveillance companies must operate within strict limits of the law and respect your privacy.

    Your privacy is protected

    The law forbids investigators to:

    • Wiretap your phone
    • Record private conversations
    • Trespass on your property
    • Obtain private information protected by state or federal law

    What is pretexting?

    There is also an explicit ban on a practice called pretexting. It refers to obtaining restricted information about an individual or a company by pretext or deceit.

    For example, a private investigator may not call you and impersonate a medical professional in order to obtain sensitive information about your health that could be used against you and your insurance claim. Practices like this are punishable in the US as common law crimes of false pretenses. If you suspect that you may have fallen prey to pretexting, you should contact a lawyer immediately.

    What You Can Expect

    Despite the restrictions mentioned above, private investigators do have at their disposal several surveillance methods and techniques that are legal, although these may seem like privacy violations. Some such methods may include recording videos or taking photographs of the subject and eavesdropping on his or her conversations.

    In order not to break the law, a private investigator may only use the above methods when the subject is found in a public setting. For example, if you are having a conversation with your friend in a park or coffee shop, a PI may attempt to listen to it—even if you consider the conversation to be private.

    As mentioned above, however, a PI cannot photograph or video you through a window of your home.

    How to Respond to Post-Accident Surveillance

    The idea of being placed under surveillance is naturally disconcerting, especially if the success of your claim and the financial compensation of your injuries may be at stake. What, then, would be the best way to react if you suspect that an insurance company has hired a private investigator to probe your claim?

    In most cases, you should refrain from interrupting the private investigator’s work. If you have good reason to believe that he or she has engaged in activities prohibited by the law, or evidence this is so, you should contact a personal injury lawyer. However, approaching the private investigator is usually inadvisable, no matter how uncomfortable it is to be watched or followed.

    Avoid exaggerating your injuries, as this may be construed as an attempt to deceive the insurance company. While there is no reason to change your normal daily routines or activities, you should pay close attention to following your doctor’s orders and recommendations.

    You can also be proactive. One step you could take is gathering as much information as you can about the surveillance you’re experiencing and report it to your legal representative.

    While it may be the intention of the insurance company to gather evidence that would weaken or even disprove your claim, the same evidence may also be used by a skillful lawyer to prove your injury and increase your chances of obtaining the full amount of compensation you deserve.

    Above all, it is important to remember that you don’t need to feel intimidated by a private investigator. If you have been honest with your attorney and your claim is strong, a private investigator is unlikely to uncover any compromising evidence.

    Of course, prudent and cautious behavior is always advisable. Nevertheless, if you know your rights and the limitations that the law places on private investigators, then you can set your worries aside and wait for a quick and successful resolution of your case.

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