Once you have filed a claim for workers’ compensation in New Jersey, there is a possibility that the insurance company handling the claim on behalf of your employer will hire a private investigator. As the insurance company gathers evidence through official channels, such as requesting reports from your doctor, the investigator may perform surveillance on you to determine if you are telling the truth about the nature and extent of your injury or illness.
The idea that a workers’ comp investigator may follow you is scary for many people. It feels like an invasion of privacy, and as though they are being put under the microscope — with their claim on the line. There is a chance in any New Jersey workers’ comp claim that you will be followed by an investigator.
If you are worried about this possibility, learning more about the process — including what an investigator can and cannot do — may help to ease your fears. A seasoned Cherry Hill workers’ compensation attorney can assist you with your case, fighting for your right to compensation and providing counsel throughout the process.
What Types of Surveillance Do Private Investigators Use in Workers’ Comp Cases?
A private investigator may use a number of tactics designed to prove that you are not truly disabled — or that you are not as disabled as you claim. The ultimate goal of this type of surveillance is to gather evidence to bolster the insurance company’s case so that it either does not have to pay benefits or that it can reduce the number of benefits that it has to pay. In some cases, an insurer may even argue that you have committed workers’ compensation fraud.
There are many ways that an investigator may try to collect this evidence, including:
- Online Surveillance: in the social media era, anything that you post, from comments to “check-ins” to likes, can be used against you. Even if your settings are at “private,” others may be able to see it through the activity of your friends and family. Something as innocuous as a picture of you smiling could be used as proof that you aren’t really in pain because people who are in pain don’t look so happy. Because anything posted on social media could be used against you in this way, it is important to be extremely careful about anything that you post on social media while your case is pending.
- Video and Photographic Surveillance: investigators may monitor your house and your comings and goings, taking videos and photos of you as you go about your day-to-day life. If you do anything that seems to be outside of doctor’s orders, then it could be used against you.
- Direct Surveillance: an investigator may follow you, with or without taking pictures and video.
- Interviews: your friends, family, and neighbors may be interviewed by investigators regarding your disability.
- Direct Contact: you may be called at home.
Laws Governing Private Investigators in New Jersey
In New Jersey, there are extensive laws that define who can become a private investigator. For example, an applicant for a private investigator (or detective) license must be 25 years of age or older, a U.S. citizen, and have at least 5 years of experience as an investigator or police officer. Yet there are few rules that govern the actual conduct of private investigators once they have received their licenses.
However, private investigators still have to follow the laws that everyone in New Jersey must follow. This is important in several ways, particularly when it comes to where an investigator can be and what they can record.
New Jersey is a “one-party consent” state when it comes to audio recordings. This means that it is a crime to intercept or record an in-person or telephone conversation unless one party to the conversation consents. Under these laws, a conversation in New Jersey can only be recorded by an investigator if a party to that conversation consents to it OR if the investigator is part of the conversation.
For example, if you were talking to your spouse inside of your house and a workers’ comp investigator used a device to amplify the sound of your call and then recorded it, they would have violated New Jersey law. This could lead to criminal penalties as well as a civil lawsuit.
This brings up a second important point. While an investigator can record you or take your pictures in public places, they cannot trespass on private property. In other words, you may be followed while you go to the grocery store, but an investigator cannot come onto your property to film you or ask you questions.
You do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy when you are in public places. However, you do have an expectation of privacy in your home and on your property. As a result, investigators cannot cross certain lines, such as flying a drone over your property to take pictures or videos of you.
An investigator can try to contact you in various ways, such as calling you or following you. However, New Jersey does have laws that prohibit harassment. If an investigator’s surveillance of you crosses certain lines, then it may be considered harassment.
Finally, while an investigator may go through your social media accounts, they cannot hack into your email, Facebook, Instagram or any other accounts. Doing so is illegal — and may be a violation of both state and federal law.
What Can I Do If I Am Being Followed By a Workers’ Comp Investigator?
If you are under surveillance, you are likely stressed by the simple fact that someone is following you and/or taking pictures or videos of you. This can cause a tremendous amount of anxiety. Fortunately, there are simple steps that you can take to ensure that you do not do anything that may harm your case.
First, whether or not you know that you are being followed, assume that you are under surveillance. If you act as though someone may be monitoring you, it will prevent any unpleasant surprises down the road.
Second, use social media and the internet with care. The internet is a top source of information for private investigators because so many people unwittingly reveal private details about their lives. Don’t give investigators an easy way to discredit your case — be responsible with what you post, and never talk about your injury online.
Third, always follow your doctor’s orders and limitations. If your doctor tells you to not do something, do not do it at any time. Not only will you avoid the potential for re-injuring yourself, but you will also decrease the risk of an investigator taking a picture or video of you briefly doing something against doctor’s orders.
Ready to File? Contact Us Today.
The workers’ compensation process can be challenging, particularly when the insurance company hires an investigator to tail you or to take pictures or video. A Cherry Hill workers’ compensation attorney can level the playing field, giving you peace of mind and the knowledge that you have someone fighting for your rights.
The team of legal professionals at Bross & Frankel represents clients throughout New Jersey and Pennsylvania. We are committed to helping you get the workers’ compensation benefits that you deserve. To schedule a free initial consultation, contact us today at 856-795-8880 or reach out online.
Rich Frankel is the managing partner of Bross & Frankel. He is a member of the New Jersey and Pennsylvania bars. He has focused exclusively on disability and social security benefits since 2005.
Mr. Frankel joined what is now Bross & Frankel after having watched his father struggle with disability, fighting a lengthy illness. Mr. Frankel founded the firm’s veteran’s law practice and substantially grew the social security disability practice, focusing Bross & Frankel’s ability to fight for all of the disability benefits available to his clients.
Mr. Frankel additionally fights for clients in court, obtaining frequent victories in Social Security appeals and against insurance companies in Federal court.