Personal Injury Lawyer, Brian Hilliard with Slater & Gordon in Hobart has raised issues about excessive use of surveillance for both workers compensation and motor accident claimants. The following article appears in today’s Hobart Mercury newspaper.
I have previously raised concerns about this issue:
Surveillance – Sharp Focus or Blunt Instrument?
With increasing use of technology the scope for intrusion into personal space has increased dramatically. I am yet to see surveillance of a workers compensation claimant from a drone, but it’s probably not far off!
There needs to be a public debate about what is acceptable, so that the law can catch up with technology.
As an occupational physician in private medical practice in Hobart, Tasmania - the southernmost state of Australia, I see workers referred by their general practitioners with various types of work-related injuries and diseases. These are mostly musculoskeletal injuries, both of traumatic and gradual onset as well as various associated psychological disorders. With interaction with patients for treatment and providing advice about rehabilitation, I have the opportunity, first-hand, to observe interactions between individual patients and compensation systems. I also conduct independent medical assessments, including impairment assessments for musculoskeletal injuries and asbestos-related disease compensation. This provides another perspective of workers within compensation systems.
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Not withstanding the responses on linkedin which on the face of it, and without knowing the full facts behind the specific cases, appear to be extreme and unnecessary cases of surveillance, I note there are legal practitioner(s) with reputations around town in Tasmania who tend to go public in the media about this type of subject matter. One person I know in the Workers Comp arena has described such practitioners as “ambulance chasers” which is not particularly flattering–I understand similar comments were posted on the Mercury’s website and then promptly removed by the paper.
One would need to be circumspect about accepting assertions in the media from such well known practitioners.
I believe surveillance has its place and I am aware of 3 incidents in my own experience where genuine “rorters” of the system have been uncovered which was costing employers and the tax payer thousands of dollars per month.
One of the difficulties when these cases are uncovered is (as I understand it) the threshold to prove genuine fraud is very high, very expensive and often not pursued although benefits and entitlements from the claim are appropriately ceased very quickly.
Your comments are valid, it is a matter of balance like most things. I appreciate your willingness to engage on these tricky subjects. It would be useful to have comments from investigators and private insurers too.
My knowledge about surveillance comes from my direct experience of viewing video surveillance of injured workers, in conjunction with interviews and examinations of the same workers.I probably watch dozens of such videos each year. This includes both workers I am treating and those I assess as an independent doctor. I am more aware of the impact of surveillance on the worker’s that I treat.
While I can certainly recall cases of exaggeration and a few cases of frank fraud, most workers I see on video seem to be just getting on with their lives as best they can. What concerns me is that some people under surveillance suffer significant psychological consequences and many workers express concern that they are afraid to go out or engage in activities that would otherwise be of benefit for their recovery. I have seen one particular case where the worker was pursued by surveillance operatives on an interstate trip (arranged by the insurer to see an IME). I couldn’t see any real reason for the surveillance – there was agreement between the treaters and IME’s about diagnosis and treatment and capacity for work. The worker thought the surveillance was purely for intimidation but of course I can’t confirm that.
There are also concerns about the impact of surveillance on the relationship between a worker and their employer. If the employer appears supportive to the worker who then becomes aware of surveillance, any trust is ‘blown out of the water’, so to speak even if if it is the insurer who has ordered the surveillance. To the worker it is the same thing – a breach of basic trust.
I agree surveillance has a place, but it should be used judiciously, where there is reason to suspect fraud not just on some whim.
I have spoken to experienced claims officers who have said that surveillance doesn’t often achieve much too, although , no doubt there would be many others who disagree.
My experience too is that unwarranted conclusions about capacity for work are drawn too often about what is observed of brief periods of activity in surveillance, both by investigators, claims officers and doctors. The conclusions just don’t stand up to critical scrutiny. Its a bit like back X-rays – many people are reassured by having then done, but they rarely add much to the management of back pain and there is a cost, both financial and due to unnecessary radiation!