Videotaping Workers Comp Claimant Praying not Invasion of Privacy

August 13, 2010 ( – An appellate court in Pennsylvania has found that an investigator who videotaped a workers’ compensation claimant while he was praying did not invade his privacy.

The Pennsylvania Superior court noted in its opinion upholding a trial court’s dismissal of the case that the state Supreme Court previously decided that a workers’ compensation claimant has a diminished expectation of privacy. The state high court pointed out that it is not uncommon for defendants in accident cases to employ investigators to check on the validity of claims against them. “It is in the best interests of society that valid claims be ascertained and fabricated claims be exposed,” the high court said.  

The appellate court also noted that “there is no case law in Pennsylvania on point of the level of privacy to be afforded persons in houses of worship.” A lower court relied on prior case law when it concluded that “a house of worship is a public place.”  

In addition, the appellate court said it is undisputed that the Islamic Center where the employee was praying was open to the public and he was praying directly in front of a plate glass window. The court rejected Ahmed Tagouma’s contendion that the act of worship is entitled to a reasonable expectation of privacy because “even though he participated in the worship service with others, he sought to keep the service free from interference of the world[,] and in particular to keep his prayers to his god private to himself.” The court said Tagouma was asking it to create a privacy expectation based on religion, while ignoring the fact that he was in public at the time of surveillance.   

“However, merely assigning a purpose to the activity cannot save Appellant’s claim for intrusion upon seclusion. Or purposes of the tort, Appellant’s physical activities and not his thoughts, prayers, or even expressions of prayer were viewed,” the court added.  

The court also rejected Tagouma’s claim that the investigator’s use of vision enhanced photographic equipment was impermissible, saying it is undisputed that the investigator was standing at a lawful vantage point in the parking lot across the street from the Islamic Center, and that the Islamic Center was not completely obstructed from the view from the street. The investigator could have just as easily walked down the public driveway and taken photos from directly outside the window, the court noted.  

The case is Ahmed Tagouma vs. Investigative Consultant Services Inc. and Michael S. Zeigler.