A little social media goes a long way in claims handling, attorney advises
Attorney Tricia G. Bellich likes to tell the story of a workers' comp claim that came across her desk a while back. The injured worker had an upper extremity injury. He had expressed an interest in music and occasionally played in a band.
"The claims adjuster did a simple Google search. We found the band, tracked where he had been playing in times of his disability, and added it to our defense," she says. "We settled for a nominal amount. We basically gave him a couple hundred dollars to walk away, rather than going to a trial."
Bellich has a number of such tales -- where social media has come into play and completely changed the scenario -- which she will share during her session. She plans to provide attendees with the tools to obtain similar results.
"I want attendees to take back practical working knowledge," she says. "How they can incorporate social media in day-to-day handling, but in an efficient manner, so it's not a time-sucker."
Lest you think Bellich is some young whippersnapper with an innate ability to utilize the latest greatest technological devices, she begs to differ. In fact, she says she has a special affinity for the over 40 crowd.
"That's what I want to explain to them -- I'm in that age group," she says. "There are some tools to produce useful information, and you don't have to be the best person on Facebook or on the cutting edge of technology to implement them in your day-to-day work."
Bellich will give attendees an understanding of the basics of social media and how they can be best used in the workers' comp claims process. Simple pre-lawsuit techniques can be used to avoid sending cases to litigation.
"I've learned over the years that there is self-incriminating evidence you can obtain at your fingertips, even if you are technically shy."
Using social media. Bellich, who is a defense attorney, the Workers' Compensation Practice chair and a partner with the Crown Point, Ind.-based firm Kopka Pinkus Dolin & Eads, says she uses some type of social media every day -- whether it is a mobile medium, blog, or other Internet-based tool.
"With a new case, we first add it to our discovery request -- in the written discovery -- to request if [the claimant] has accounts at these social media sites. We also question at deposition," Bellich says. "From a defense standpoint, we're pleasantly surprised at how willing these courts are to allow this information. It goes to the heart of the matter of the physical or mental status of the injured worker."
Bellich says the information gleaned through social media has become invaluable in helping to settle claims quicker. It appears the legal system concurs.
"The federal statutes allow for a reasonable expectation of privacy. But when you bring an action where physical or mental injuries are at the heart of the matter, the courts say there is no reasonable expectation of privacy," she says. "We can't go on a fishing expedition -- it has to be relevant to the case at hand. But if that is the case, unlike other types of litigation, you can get the evidence in."
At the same time, Bellich advises erring on the side of caution. She will elaborate on some of the legal intricacies of using social media during the session.
"I will teach people to be mindful," she says, "give tools where they are comfortably within the law today and as [the courts] are moving to allow this information," she says. "I don't want anybody to go rogue on us."
The session, she says, is designed for workers' comp participants at all levels of the technology spectrum.
"They should not be afraid [to attend] because they see 'social media' if they are not tech savvy. I'm no techno geek. It will be very practical in nature. For those more advanced, I hope to give additional guidance," she says. "It will be an interactive and enjoyable experience, as well."
Read more at the WorkersComp Forum homepage.
November 3, 2011
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