Car insurance companies use various strategies to find reasons to devalue or even deny claims filed by crash victims.
Some strategies are less common than others, like hiring a private investigator. Typically, insurance companies only do this if the claim could cost them a lot of money and they are hoping to find a way to underpay the claim.
Hiring a private investigator may sound like a step over the line. You may be asking: How is this not an invasion of my privacy?
However, the insurance company is within its rights to hire a private investigator. There are limits on what a private investigator can do, and if he or she works within those limits, nothing illegal is happening.
Below, we discuss car insurance companies hiring private investigators, including what the investigator can do and how he or she could find something to use against you. We also explain some practical steps you can take to try to protect the value of your claim.
One of the most important steps you can take is contacting a licensed Cleveland vehicle crash lawyer. An initial consultation is free of charge, and we do not charge upfront fees for our services.
Insurers Say They Use Investigators to Spot Fraud
One of the reasons car insurance companies say they hire private investigators is to try to prevent fraud. They have an interest in preventing fraud because it could increase premium payments for their customers.
However, while it is true insurance fraud can occur, insurers are also looking for anything they can use to attack the credibility of crash victims or weaken the victim’s case. They are trying to find a way to protect their profits and underpay or deny claims.
It is important to understand insurance companies will try to use anything against you. They often have incredibly flimsy excuses for denying or underpaying claims. No matter how strong you may think your case is, the insurance company could try to devalue your claim.
What are Private Investigators Allowed to do When Surveilling You?
It is important to note there are limits on what private investigators can do while surveilling people. These limits are meant to protect your privacy, and if investigators cross the line they could potentially be charged with a crime. This may make it much more difficult for the insurance company to use information gathered by the investigator.
Investigators can take pictures of you in a public place. For example, they could photograph you driving to the grocery store or to work.
Investigators can look at your social media posts. They can also review public records/information about you.
While you may think the investigator cannot uncover all that much by doing these things, there are a lot of things the investigator could learn. For example, if the investigator photographs you engaging in stressful physical activity, such as exercise or yardwork, it could cast doubt on the severity of your injuries. The insurance company may ask: How injured can you be if you are engaging in these activities?
Social media posts may describe you going on vacation or going out with friends at night. Even a picture of you smiling on social media could be used against you. It is important to note private investigators cannot gain unauthorized access to your social media accounts. However, they may be able to see any posts that are public or shared by friends online.
A private investigator could track your movements. For example, the investigator can note when you were at home and when you left. This information could be used to prove you missed doctor’s appointments.
What are Private Investigators Prohibited from Doing?
Private investigators cannot break the law to spy on you. They cannot trespass on private property. They could park down the street from your house, but they cannot park in your driveway.
Private investigators cannot take pictures of you when there is an expectation of privacy. For example, they cannot take pictures of you through a window with the curtains drawn.
They are also prohibited from entering your home unless they have your permission. They cannot pretend to be someone else to enter your home either. For example, they cannot pretend to be a police officer or a representative from the insurance company.
Wiretapping your phone is also illegal. They may also need to trespass to gain access to your phone, particularly if it is a landline phone. It is illegal for a third party to record a conversation between you and someone else unless one of the two parties in the conversation consents to it.
While a private investigator can follow you in public, they cannot put a tracking device on your vehicle.
They cannot hack into your email account or obtain other electronic data about you, unless it is public record.
Private investigators cannot threaten you physically or verbally. They are also prohibited from intimidating you.
How do I Protect My Claim from a Private Investigator?
Car insurance companies may say crash victims should have nothing to fear about a private investigator. Their rationale is that if you have a valid claim, you should have nothing to hide.
While this may sound cynical, in some ways it is true. If you are focused on treating your injuries, you follow your doctor’s orders, and you seek help from an attorney, you likely have nothing to worry about. Avoid talking to the insurance company and ask your attorney any questions you have about protecting your claim.
Following Doctor’s Orders
Make sure to attend doctor’s appointments. If something comes up and you miss an appointment, make sure to reschedule the appointment.
You should also limit your physical activity as recommended by your doctor. If the doctor tells you to avoid running, swimming, lifting weights, or wearing yourself out, stick to those recommendations.
You may also want to avoid too much activity in a public setting. Even if you are doing something allowed by your doctor, a private investigator could photograph you and the picture could be used against you.
Be Cautious Using Social Media
You may want to avoid posting on social media until your claim is concluded. There are many risks with posting things on social media and no matter how careful you are, one mistake could hurt your case.
You may be allowed to go out with your friends but posting pictures of you having a good time could be used against you by the insurance company.
Despite what you may think, anything you post on the internet could be seen by someone else. Privacy settings are often not as strong as many people believe. Investigators could create a fake profile and send a friend request.
What if a Private Investigator Breaks the Law?
If you ever feel you are in immediate danger, call the police. They can protect you and investigate any illegal activity by the private investigator.
You should also inform your attorney, as it may be possible to take legal action over the harassment or other illegal activity.
Contact Friedman, Domiano & Smith Today for Legal Help
For decades, our firm has been a strong advocate for those injured in car crashes in Cleveland and Northeast Ohio. We have a proven track record, having secured millions on behalf of our clients.
There are numerous benefits of working with a licensed attorney after a crash caused by another driver’s negligence. We can discuss these benefits in a free consultation.
Our attorneys are ready to help. Call to learn more: 216-621-0070.
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