Our case of the week started out as a routine, straight-forward workers’ comp surveillance case similar to thousands of others we have performed over the years. We were as prepared as we could possibly be… until we weren’t.
It all started when a large insurance company in the Midwest contacted our Newport Beach corporate office. They wanted us to perform surveillance on one of their claimants who would be traveling from Chicago to vacation with his family in the Huntington Beach. They had rented a beach house and would be there for one week.
The executive, “Graham,”, was the Chief Financial Officer for a large company that was a major supplier of items to the food industry. His annual salary (without bonuses) was $800,000 per annum. Graham was on medical leave for injuries he sustained in July of this year while attending the company’s annual summer picnic. During the “tug of war” event, Graham’s team was pulled so hard that he fell and injured his left hand/wrist and right ankle. Ironically, no one else on the winning or losing tug of war teams suffered any injuries, minor or major.
Graham initially shrugged off his injuries until the next day – when he went to the hospital complaining of severe pain. The emergency room doctor told Graham he looked fine and should return to work. The hospital report was very clear-cut.
Graham’s personal physician was more liberal in his evaluation that Graham should not exceed more than five pounds of pressure on his hand, and that he wear a boot on his foot until the ligament pain calmed down.
Some people exert more than five pounds of pressure writing with a pen. Wearing a boot seemed very dramatic, given that the x-rays and MRI’s (that Graham had insisted upon getting) showed no abnormalities of any kind.
The next day Graham showed up at his office with his boot on and his hand in a sling. He advised the Human Resources that he was going to be on indefinite leave. A few days later he arrived in sunny California.
The location of the rental property was a tough one. The house had no street parking in front, an alley behind the property and parking in the back was limited to assigned owner parking. The lead investigator, Mike, was on foot to alert the two other investigators when the subject left in his vehicle. One investigator parked to the North and the other to the South.
Our surveillance was initiated at 7:00 am.
At 8:10 am, two male subjects were observed in the alley about 100 feet from the subject’s home and garage area. Mike radioed the other two investigators. The subjects were observed to be in T-shirts, shorts and flip-flops. No boot or sling was observed on either subject. They quickly opened the door of a small shed. Both were then observed to exit the alley and leave the area on bicycles. They proceeded down a one-way street in the wrong direction and were lost from view.
Was one of these men Graham? If so, he won round one.
We did not see anyone enter or exit our subject’s garage area. Since surveillance in front of the residence was pointless, the garage area was our only hope of observing the subject.
The team regrouped. It was determined that the subject could, in fact, exit the residence, walk down the side of the home and go to the previously referenced shed area. It was confirmed that the shed was provided by the homeowner’s association where residents could store bicycles, surf boards and beach toys.
The next day we returned with two of our vehicles – each containing a bike on a rack. The third investigator was actually on a bike in beach attire. At 11:10 am, we observed the same two men exit the subject’s rental home. Once again, no boot or sling was observed on them. They both got on their bicycles, and the chase was on.
With video rolling, we determined our subject was on the red bicycle. He was peddling hard with both feet and using both hands to maneuver the hand brakes and gears. They were followed to a local bar where they went in and had drinks and lunch.
The investigator on the bicycle radioed to see if any of our additional investigators were in the area. Luckily, one of our female investigators was able to join him at a table near the subject and his friend. This friend was later determined to be a college buddy who lived in the area. Surveillance footage was obtained of the subject racing his friend back to the rental house.
One might think that the footage obtained would be enough to end this workers’ compensation claim. Not hardly. In our world, if you only have one day, the claimant’s attorney will claim that his client was feeling good and took off his boot and sling.
Day two was golden and provided the second leg of the “three times” rule we like to invoke. Catching someone once is good, a second time is excellent but a third time is game over. On the second day, the subject and his spouse were observed to exit the garage area in a vehicle. They were followed for about two miles in heavy traffic, when they parked the vehicle in a public parking lot. They were followed with the subject pulling a cooler and carrying beach towels. They found their spot in the sand.
About an hour later mthey both approached a vendor who was selling parasailing tickets. That’s right – out subject got harnessed up on the sand with his wife and together were video taped sailing off into the blue skies of Southern California. His landing was literally picture perfect: We filmed Graham pulling the cord with his injured hand as to guide the chute and then hit a “ten” on his landing with both feet pounding the sand as he caught his balance.
The next day was less dramatic but totally effective. Apparently a barbecue was in order. The subject and his son were observed to leave the home in their vehicle and arrive at a local supermarket. They purchased steaks, hamburger, chips, beer, wine and assorted fruits. The bill was $238. The subject was observed on tape to put all the items in the cart, then on to the checkout stand and into his vehicle.
The insurance company was notified and they were obviously very pleased. Their game plan was to take the subject’s deposition in a few weeks. Once he perjured him by lying about his vacation and the video tapes were shown and our reports read, they would seek criminal action with the Illinois Insurance Commissioner and the District Attorney’s Office regarding fraud. This tug-of-war was won in a slam dunk by our client.
A welfare check saves a man’s life.