North Carolina Workers' Compensation and Surveillance
Below you will find a Hardison & Cochran Podcast episode about North Carolina Workers’ Compensation and Surveillance. The transcript from this episode is also below for those who would simply like to read and not listen. To listen or read transcripts from other podcasts from Hardison & Cochran, please visit our Podcast Page.
Episode #4 North Carolina Workers’ Compensation and Surveillance Transcript
Bill Campbell: [00:01:07] When people are injured at work are being watched by somebody?
Ben Cochran: [00:01:12] We often see them when an injured employee is out of work and receiving benefits, the insurance company will hire private investigators to go and observe them for their day to day activities.
It’s not in every single case that we see this, but we have noticed an increase in surveillance footage. Often times what we see is they choose approximately six to seven days and do a long course of video surveillance.
They do this because they need to show that it wasn’t just a happenstance that they caught an injured employee doing a particular activity or potentially even working when they are receiving benefits, so we do find that people are being watched out in the general public and that they are being videotaped by private investigators.
Bill Campbell: [00:02:03] You said there’s a private investigators, who hires these private investigators?
Ben Cochran: [00:02:07] The private investigators are hired either by the insurance company or by the self-insured employer. Most of the time it’s the insurance company.
They have contracts with different private investigators that they work with on an extended period or on a routine basis. And so what they do is they just contact them and they give them the address.
Usually what you’ll see in the video surveillance is the private investigator shows up, they’ll video surveillance the house so they can make sure that they have the right address. Then they’ll focus on any registered license tags of the vehicle.
Then they’ll cross reference that with the Department of Motor Vehicles registration to confirm that they do have the appropriate address and injured employee. Then they begin surveillance. Surveillance usually goes through a entire 12 hour period. It begins early in the morning and then usually resolves right before dark.
Bill Campbell: [00:03:06] What specifically are they trying to catch these people doing? I would assume if they have some kind of restriction where they can’t climb a ladder or pick up 5 pounds of something that they’re trying to catch them doing those things. Is that correct?
Ben Cochran: [00:03:18] The main point of the video is to obtain footage as to how the individual moves doing particular activities, where they they’re going to perform certain activities, to see whether or not the information that they’re providing to the doctors as to their pain level and there an ability to do things is accurate.
So what they are hoping to do is to obtain footage of the injured employee performing activities to which he has already told the medical provider that he can’t do it so that they can report this video footage back to the doctor to try and change the restrictions or show that the injured employee has no credibility with the doctor.
Bill Campbell: [00:04:02] I guess the big question with all of this is this legal are these people allowed to do this?
Ben Cochran: [00:04:08] Any time that you go out in public and avail yourself to the public. You can be videotaped. So there are no laws against an individual who is moving throughout the public from being videotaped. There are restrictions on coming on to someone’s property.
Obviously you could still be trespassing if you’re a private investigator. And there are peeping tom laws which do protect anybody training video surveillance while they’re inside the house.
Bill Campbell: [00:04:39] I guess that kind of answers my next question I was going to ask if they can even do this…say when you go to church on Sunday? They can do it then?
Ben Cochran: [00:04:49] What we see is… I don’t know that I have ever seen anybody actually videoed inside a church. But we do see people who are videoed at Walmart, food establishments, anything that the public is moving about freely.
Going into closed businesses or closed churches, you just see less frequency of it because a lot of folks there know who their church members are and the person that is performing the video surveillance knows that they’ll be out of place would be my guess and so more likely than not you’re not going to see something in a restricted type of community environment.
For those places that are open up where you have the public going in freely to either purchase goods or to eat, as I mentioned before, those are going to be fair game private investigators.
Bill Campbell: [00:05:51] A lot of people would have the same type of things they’re doing online. Is social media… Do these people. There’s people hired to go look at you physically in public, are there people hired to scour your social media? Your Instagram, your Facebook, your Twitter to see if anything’s going on there?
Ben Cochran: [00:06:12] In litigation there are forms of discovery that are utilized by opposing counsel. You often are seeing now requests for social media, requests for passwords to access social media accounts, so that the opposing counsel for the insurance company can view even the private ongoings of a social media account.
So you do have to be mindful that when you post something on social media, even if in private, in a litigation setting, they have the opportunity to review that information. As to whether or not they actively have people performing searches on social media, we see that the individual adjusters perform this process and also paralegals for opposing counsel perform these tasks as well.
So you do see that there are folks looking at social media accounts and watching what the injured employee is doing. So when you’re taking that into consideration to be clear, if you’re involved in litigation or if you have filed a claim you do not destroy your social media account.
You can’t come in and just erase it. That’s not something that you ever want to do, but you do have to be conscious of the fact that other people will be watching that information, will be able to gain access to it more likely than not whether it be through a judge’s order or through other means directed by the court.
Bill Campbell: [00:07:52] Pictures are one thing, talking about text post. If somebody, obviously if you’re on social media and you’ve got a bunch of friends you don’t want to seem like a sad sack all the time. What if you put something on there encouraging or saying you might be feeling good that day. How does that play out? Seeing that social media is not a place you want to be sad all the time. That it’s a place maybe a positive… could it hurt you just saying hey I’m feeling not feeling ok today?
Ben Cochran: [00:08:19] I don’t think that that you really need to be concerned about, you know, indicating that you’re having a good day or different statements is to how you’re feeling through the social media accounts. What you have to do is just be conscious of the fact that the information can be viewed by another individual at a later point in time to judge you or how you are feeling or what was going on that day.
So as long as you are comfortable with how you felt that day and what you were doing that day, I don’t think there would be any type of harmful effects from acknowledging through social media what’s going on on a day to day basis.
I think in terms of dealing with your individual circumstances you did want to be mindful of what you do post on there as to accurately demonstrate how you were feeling that day.
Bill Campbell: [00:09:23] You don’t want to destroy it because they obviously can go get it through different means. Now what about if you were injured at work would you would you advise somebody just to shut it down just quit posting altogether on social media?
Ben Cochran: [00:09:36] Obviously by removing yourself from the social media gives a very simple answer to avoiding risk of social media pitfalls.
So I think that that is an advisable situation to not demonstrate or position yourself in the public through social media when you are concerned that there are people who are working against your interests and using information against you.
Certainly I think that there are arguments to be made that that you should just you know wait until things are are resolved in order to go forward. But I think once again, when you come down to it you just don’t want to put your information out there that would affect how anybody could later view your circumstances as it relates to how you’re injured.
Bill Campbell: [00:10:35] OK, let’s do a hypothetical here… what if you’re in your yard and your kids are playing and you’re sitting around and you are hurt and you’re receiving benefits… worker’s comp benefits, and you just notice a van across the street and he’s obviously… somebody is obviously sitting there recording or snapping pictures. Is there anything you can do or do you just sit there and take it?
Ben Cochran: [00:10:57] One thing that I that I think that you can do is essentially you can walk over and try and approach them more likely than not they’re going to leave. Most states do not allow the private investigator to communicate with the subject and then allow that testimony to be entered into court.
So the surveillance has to be done from afar. You cannot communicate with the injured victim and then get the evidence into court most times. So they’re usually going to leave when they believe that they have been identified.
Then another thing that is very common that I tell folks to do is you simply call the sheriff’s department and you indicate to the sheriff’s department that there is a vehicle that does not belong in the neighborhood. It is parked to position in a place where it appears like they are watching your family and that you would like the subject to be approached.
And then when the sheriff comes they pretty much skedaddle out of there too.