As a plaintiff in a personal injury case, you may feel alone. As I tell my clients, when you file a lawsuit, you sacrifice certain rights and privileges that we all generally take for granted. You forgo the right to keep your personal biographical information and health care history and records confidential. You cede the ability to keep information about your employment, your career and how you spend your idle time private. And you surrender the ability to keep many aspects of your life to yourself.
In cases involving life altering injuries where much is at stake, a common tactic employed by insurance companies is to conduct surveillance. Typically, surveillance is employed to “catch” an injured party engaging in some activity that will contradict or betray some claim in your case. A conflict may arise in the event that you’re observed engaging in a physical activity in conflict with your testimony or claims including the inability to work. I wrote about surveillance evidence in 1993 in an article entitle “Looking Fraudulent Surveillance in the Eye: How to Refute Distorted Evidence”, published in Trial, Vol. 27, No. 1 at 137-38An effective way for a plaintiff to neutralize the defense surveillance game is to always tell the truth. Always tell the truth to your health care providers, your lawyers, and when you’re providing information to the defense when complying with discovery in your case, tell the truth in interrogatory responses and deposition answers.
Another way to look the “agents of darkness” in the eye is to remain alert to the likelihood that you will be watched. Sometimes the “spies” will position themselves in your neighborhood or near your place of employment in a van or automobile. A spy will generally arrive in position early in the day to be in place to observe your activities from the beginning of the day. If you leave home, it is likely you will be followed and observed during your “away” activities.
If you observe a strange car with a man doing nothing in your neighborhood, there’s a good chance he’s been hired by an investigator for an insurance company to watch and videotape you.
What can you do? Well first, call the police to report a suspicious car in your neighborhood. That’s just a good idea anyway if a strange car is parked in your neighborhood and occupied by someone unknown. That’s suspicious to begin with. If the police don’t chase the car away and tell you it’s “alright,” that’s a good sign it’s surveillance. An investigator should report to the local police that he will be in the neighborhood even before arriving.
You can also conduct your own surveillance on the spy. Take some photographs like those above. It can be empowering. You can also go up to the car and ask “what’s he’s [the driver] doing?” Of course, it might be a good idea to have a witness when you approach his car.
If your claim involves mental health issues that often arise in cases involving traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”), or even garden variety emotional distress that accompanies most series injury claims, be certain to discuss the surveillance issues, including the toll that it’s taking on you with your mental health providers.
And finally, don’t neglect to advise your lawyer about the presence of surveillance. This type of evidence can be a “double-edged sword.” The insurance company is hoping to catch you in a lie or contradiction. However, with honest folks, the surveillance will not bear any fruit. The absence of proof of a lie or contradiction might prove useful in inflaming the jury against these tactics. A good lawyer will know how to use this evidence, as I did in a recent case involving a single woman who lives alone. The anger of the members of the jury, particularly the women, was palpable.