Being a personal injury claimant is tough. Firstly, you’ve suffered an injury that was not your fault and you’re dealing with whatever ongoing pain and disability that injury has caused. If you’re unlucky enough to have developed Complex Regional Pain Syndrome or another pain condition, the suffering you have to contend with is sadly very significant.
Secondly, your status as a claimant means that you’re in the middle of a battlefield; your own solicitors work to show the extent of your injuries and the suffering it has caused across the whole course of your life. Unfortunately, the defendant’s solicitors work equally hard to denigrate your claim in every way. After all, they’re just doing their job too. They’ll try to show that you’re exaggerating your symptoms, that you’re not as ill as you claim to be, that you don’t need care and support to live your daily life and that actually, if you stopped pretending to be hurt, you could go right back to work and your normal life tomorrow.
As a claimant, you develop a close relationship with your solicitor. They live through the ups and downs of your condition with you and understand the implications of every nuance of your illness. The defendants don’t have this luxury. The only contact they have with you is indirect, through the reports their medical experts write and by reading your written statements about the impact of your injuries. They won’t meet you face to face and they won’t be able to directly challenge you on whether you’re telling the whole truth.
So what can the defendant do to try and establish that you’re exaggerating your illness? One of the most effective tools they can deploy is covert surveillance and it is used in the vast majority of CRPS and other chronic pain claims. It sounds like something out of a James Bond film and conjures images of men in trench coats hiding behind newspapers with cut out eyeholes; the modern reality is more likely a couple of people sitting in a car with blacked out windows on your street, logging and recording your every move.
It is a horrible thought and one that probably keeps most personal injury claimants awake at night: how dare they follow me? How dare they intrude upon my life? And then, more frighteningly: what will they have seen? Have I done something that could be misinterpreted? Is it going to destroy my claim?
Having been through this myself, my aim in this article is to provide a claimant’s guide to coping with covert surveillance. If you follow the points I’ve listed below then hopefully there will be no nasty surprises when the defendant serves their surveillance evidence.
It’s not personal
Knowing someone is watching you is the most intrusive and uncomfortable reality. I got very paranoid, constantly trying to work out which car might be following me or which visitor to the park opposite my house was there with intentions other than enjoying a stroll.
It’s very important to remember that this is not personal. Complex personal injury cases involving CRPS and other pain syndromes can involve a lot of money and at the end of the day, you are nothing but a monetary sum that the defendants are trying to make as small as possible. It feels intensely personal when your life has been ripped up by the development of such a hideous disease, but the reason they are filming you is nothing to do with you as a person or your claim in particular; it is simply that if they can catch you on film doing something you’ve said you can’t do then that is the strongest evidence they can have that you’re not a truthful claimant and you’re exaggerating how badly you’re suffering. Surveillance has worked very well in the past for reducing massive claims: just check out the stories here and here for high profile examples of how effective it can be. So try to not let it make you miserable or angry: it’s simply a part of the process you’re going through and nothing to do with you personally.
There is no more important piece of advice than this. If you are completely honest with your solicitor then you have nothing to worry about from surveillance evidence as there will be no nasty surprises. Problems will only arise when, for example, you claim to only be able to walk 50 metres, very slowly and in great pain and the video shows you running a marathon then dancing a jig. It is of utmost importance that your solicitor is absolutely clear on how your illness impacts on your day to day activity and exactly what you can and can’t do. CRPS is a condition that varies day to day and you need to be honest about that too. In the example above, there would be no problem with getting a video showing you running a marathon and dancing as long as your written statements state clearly that there are some days when you can do so.
In my own claim, I stated that I could walk about 50 metres, slowly and in great pain, before I had to stop and this was the truth. However, there was one day where I had a very important hospital appointment and this involved me walking more like 300 metres from the hospital car park. The walk was absolutely agonising and took me about half an hour to complete, but I did it because the appointment was so important and I had no choice. Realising that this could be taken to contradict my witness statement, and remembering the advice of my solicitor, Richard Lowes, I actually wrote an email to Richard there and then in the hospital waiting room, explaining what had happened and why just in case someone had been watching me that day.
Don’t be afraid to volunteer information to your solicitor as often as you need to; whether it’s an overall improvement in your situation (for example you can now walk further due to successful physio) or just that you’ve had to do something outside your normal capabilities on that day. Knowledge is power, and if your solicitor is armed with the absolute truth then covert filming shouldn’t hurt you.
Try to ignore it; don’t let it intrude
Covert surveillance is an unpleasant reality of a CRPS claim. There’s nothing you can do about it. The best advice I can give is to try to ignore it. Just go about your daily life as you want to, as if you’ve followed the advice above you shouldn’t have anything to worry about. During my own claim, I was never aware of anyone following me and no surveillance evidence was ever served. I wasted hours being angry and upset about the thought of people filming me and in retrospect, I really wish I’d just ignored the whole thing.
It’s likely you’ll never be aware of surveillance as it’s happening as the whole point is to catch you unawares. However, if you do become aware that someone is following you and it makes you feel threatened then you don’t have to stand for that. If you realise you’re being followed and it frightens you, call your solicitor and let them know what’s happening. They can contact the defendant’s solicitors and ask them immediately to stop any surveillance that may be happening. You can also call the police if you’re scared by the situation. I would strongly advise that you only follow this course of action if you’re genuinely frightened by what is happening; surveillance is a simple reality of a claim and it’s best just to let it happen.
What do I do if video evidence is served?
First of all, don’t panic. There are ways to overcome surveillance evidence (see Richard Lowes’ excellent article here). Video evidence doesn’t always contain a smoking gun; sometimes it’s served simply because it’s likely to terrify a claimant and create an air of suspicion in the claim. Your solicitor should immediately request confirmation that this is the full, unedited footage and also ask to see the surveillance logs. A claimant can help here by working through the footage themselves. If they remember the events that have been filmed, it’s quite possible that they’ll know something has been edited to look a particular way. As a hypothetical example, the video might show a CRPS patient meeting a friend for dinner in a restaurant, smiling and looking completely pain-free. What hasn’t been included is the slow painful walk into the restaurant and the five minutes the claimant spent psyching themselves up so they could look happy and well for their friend. In any event, your solicitor should take a detailed witness statement from you commenting on the footage.
Being put under covert surveillance is horrible. There’s no other way to describe it. It’s intrusive, stressful and threatening. But you can’t really blame defendants’ solicitors for employing it as a tactic; unfortunately the small number of fraudulent claimants out there have ensured that every claimant is viewed with some suspicion. The reality is that to defendants, claimants are simply a number on a balance sheet; a financial figure that they wish to make as small as possible and they will do anything they legally can to achieve this aim. As long as a claimant is scrupulously honest about their abilities and disabilities, there is nothing to fear from surveillance evidence. An intrusive, distasteful reality, but not one that can derail a genuine claim.