Maine attorney for workers' compensation, criminal defense, civil litigation, and small business matters.

Maine Workers' Compensation Law blog

A humble collection of pieces about issues in Maine workers' compensation law by Attorney Zachary J. Smith.

Surveillance and Investigation of Injured Employees

If you have a pending or proven claim for a work-related injury, the insurance company is allowed to hire a private investigator (PI) to ensure you are not committing fraud. And some insurance adjusters are fond of doing this, especially when a claim is getting expensive. Sometimes an adjuster just has a hunch that the employee is faking or exaggerating the extent of an injury, and once in a while someone gets caught working under the table while supposedly disabled. I have seen few proven cases of workers’ compensation fraud or theft committed by workers, whereas fraud or theft, sometimes running into six figures, committed by employers seems far more common.

I doubt that insurance companies usually uncover enough fraud to offset the costs of paying these investigators, but I have heard from credible sources that most adjusters are convinced that the vast majority of people getting benefits are abusing or defrauding the system in some way. So, they try to catch people in the act of doing things that they tell their doctors they can’t do.

Based on investigative materials I have seen in my practice, stories I’ve heard from individuals with work-related injuries, and decisions I have read in other lawyers’ cases, I can say confidently that a PI may: follow you around town in public places, observe you from a vehicle down the street from your residence, take still photos, shoot videos, ask neighbors about your habits, visit your home under false pretenses, review and record your social media activities, conduct a criminal background check, and so on. Of course, there are legal limits to such surveillance, but I do not consider the limits strong enough to protect people’s privacy. I have heard a number of employees’ stories about surveillance and other means of investigation, and it is fairly creepy when you see a report that someone has been followed from home to the supermarket, the bank, the post office, and back. I have also seen footage that could not have been obtained without trespassing on private property, but I’ve never heard of anyone successfully arguing trespass as a reason to make the evidence inadmissible. The lessons here: be honest when you make an injury claim and be aware of how you present yourself in public forums. As the clichés say, looks can be deceiving, but a picture paints a thousand words.

Zachary Smith