Liars In Workers’ Compensation

For the past 18 months, Dalene Bartholomew of Probe Investigations and I have been presenting at conferences regarding deceit and fraud detection strategies. This article distills much of that presentation. Unfortunately, the article cannot capture the entertaining and informative visual presentation that Dalene developed as part of our dog and pony show. To enjoy that aspect, you will need to come see us when we speak! But the gist of the presentation follows below and we hope you find it informative.

All people lie. Studies show that we all lie, every day. We learned early, with our first fake cry as infants, to get what we want by bending the truth.

Not all lies, however, are bad. White lies spare feelings and ease social interactions. But lies in workers’ compensation weigh down the system, adversely affecting employers and carriers, as well as legitimately injured workers. For that reason, it is important that defendants learn to spot lies and utilize the tools available to counter them.

The good news is that people are basically bad at lying. In our lives, we have developed the basics for reading the signs of deception. Research indicates that expert lie-spotters identify misrepresentations approximately 70% of the time, while lay people recognize lies about 50% of the time. Closing that gap means the avoidance of considerable fraud in the workers’ compensation arena.

The likelihood that someone will lie can be affected by circumstances. Extroverts lie more than introverts. Men tend to lie about themselves, while women lie to protect the feelings of others. People are most likely to lie over the phone; they are less likely to lie in person, and least likely to lie in writing. People are more likely to lie to strangers and less likely to lie to a person they know. Thus, a statement most likely to be accurate is taken in writing and in person by an acquaintance of the interviewee. In addition, the people most likely to know the truth about an applicant’s injury are people who know the injured worker. So in-person interviews with co-workers taken by someone they know can be very effective as a tool to ferret out the truth.

Further, the stress that comes with lying causes people to display involuntary signs that give them away. These indicators are both physical and verbal. People who are lying tend not to talk in a natural manner. They do not use contractions. They talk in generalities rather than specifics and qualify what they say. They make broad affirmations about their honesty and specific denials with regard to deception. Examples of visible signs that people exhibit under stress include exaggerated gestures, exaggerated or inappropriate emotions or facial expressions, covering the mouth, and nervous ticks such as rubbing the eyes or pulling at the collar.

Each person, however, exhibits a baseline level of physical and verbal quirks when communicating. It is therefore important when spotting lies to first identify the person’s natural presentation so as not to mistake those quirks as lying. A technique for doing so involves beginning an interview or deposition with comfort questions that are easy to answer and that do not place the interviewee under stress. Once you identity the person’s natural idiosyncrasies, you can move from comfort questioning to stress interrogation. Start with meatloaf and then move to the spicy jambalaya. If, as a result, you get an increase in signs, or see a cluster of signs, you have identified an area upon which you should focus, because deception is likely occurring.

Advance preparation is the key to uncovering the truth once you spot a lie. Under pressure, the liar will become evasive and nonresponsive. You need to have mastered the underlying facts to avoid being led around them by the interviewee. You need to listen to the answers to recognize evasion. Your focus should be on the interviewee or deponent not on yourself or your list of prepared question. You need to ask concise and unambiguous questions to avoid imprecise answers.

A person telling the truth recalls an incident by going to the most important, emotionally charged aspect of an event and then jumps around without difficulty to other important factors. Liars have prepared a story and want to tell it chronologically from beginning to end. This is how they keep the details of their deception straight. So ask questions by jumping from one important aspect of the case to another, and do so out of chronological order. The dishonest deponent will avoid the questions and return again and again to his or her story. Once it is clear that this is happening, allow the person to tell his story as prepared, which gives the person sufficient rope to hang himself. Then return to your specific questioning and continue to press until the questions are answered. The liar’s story will not hold up, and the liar’s credibility will be impeached.

Other tools exist to identify and confirm deception. A medical/pharmacy canvas is more accurate than relying on a written list of past medical providers obtained in writing or at deposition from the applicant. Social media searches are essential in the digital world. Background investigations turn up other injuries and/or nonindustrial factors that may be causing an applicant stress. Sub rosa investigation is a key tool for contradicting misrepresentations. Remember that sub rosa is most effective when it is performed close in time to the lies and performed over sufficient time to avoid the “explain aways” such as: (1) I was having a good day or (2) the meds were masking my pain at the time the film was taken. Consider other tools as well such as disability management interviews with primary treating physicians where information developed during investigation can be presented to provide a PTP with a complete picture.

Finally, when spotting lies, get out of your own way. Do not allow the biases through which we all view the world to blur the truth. Examples of biases to avoid include: (1) the tendency to believe those like us and to distrust those who are different, (2) the tendency to believe attractive, popular, successful, charismatic people and discount those who are not, (3) the tendency to believe what is consistent with what we already believe and disregard the opposite, and: (4) the tendency to see what is in our perceived best interest rather than what is not.

In the end, successful lie spotting requires three factors. The ability and commitment to identify lies is the first. The knowledge and expertise to utilize tools to document the lies is the second. The third is the will to act upon the evidence once it has been developed.