Facebook, Twitter & Myspace for Injured Workers...Who Is Watching You?

Social networking sites are the newest way we communicate with our family, friends, and co-workers. The craze has caught on and nearly every generation is tweeting or posting status updates to their Facebook, Twitter, and Myspace pages. In fact, Facebook now has 750 million users worldwide.  It took radio 38 years to reach 50 million people...Facebook added 100 million users in less than 9 months. So why does that matter to the injured worker? 

It is important to keep in mind that what you say on the internet may come back to haunt you. Insurance defense firms and private investigators are beginning to monitor injured workers' status updates and tweets. Some private investigators are even making up bogus Facebook profiles of attractive men or women to target injured employees with the hope that they will accept their friend request and essentially give them access to the injured workers' daily activities.

I have already seen the seemingly innocent status updates from injured workers, who did not have privacy control settings in place, backfire on them in court. 

Today, defense attorneys are attempting to use these updates and tweets against injured workers in court and in the doctor's office. The term "social website surveillance" has emerged as yet another weapon in the insurance industry's arsenal. In Canada, courts are beginning to order plaintiff's private social website information, including pictures and status updates, to be produced and preserved in civil actions. I imagine the idea of requesting courts to authorize similar information, even when the information is not public, is not that far away for Georgia workers' compensation case. The point is, be careful what you say on the internet. What happens on Facebook does not always stay on Facebook. 

***Update - As of August 2011, The Georgia State Board of Workers' Compensation has ordered an injured worker's home computer and Facebook account be made available to the attorneys for the insurance company. The decision was upheld by the Superior Court that reviewed the decision, and the Georgia Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court of Georgia denied cert. 

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Surveillance of Injured Employees: What You Need to Know About Who is Parked Across the Street

One of the most common questions I am asked by my clients is whether the insurance company will conduct videotaped surveillance of them after they file a claim. The answer is Yes, and often! Just ask Jack "Rocky" Whitten who was taped by The Hartford eating a taco. Rocky lost his disability benefits he had obtained due to a broken neck after paying his premiums for years while working as the Manager of a Wal-Mart. While Mr. Whitten's case involved a long-term disability plan, the same tactics are used in workers' compensation claims.

The insurance companies will use the tapes for many reasons. The surveillance is almost always used to intimidate claimants into settling their case for less than they should.  However, the insurance company will also show the tapes to your doctor to try to persuade their diagnosis and to the judge in order to influence the outcome of the hearing. In the most extreme cases, the insurance company may even try to press charges against you for insurance fraud as was the case with a Quakertown, Pennsylvania woman who lied about a second job she had as an exotic dancer. 

How do you know if you are being watched? The private investigator will usually set up a post outside of your residence in an unmarked car and wait for you to come outside. The P.I. will follow you if you drive anywhere and tape you getting in and out of your car, filling your car up with gas, loading your car with groceries, putting your child in their car seat, or even eating a taco. It is okay to do those things, but make sure you are not moving or lifting in a manner that would seem inconsistent with your injury.  This is true even if you have not hired an attorney or even filed your claim for workers' compensation benefits.

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