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Part 1: Questionable Disability-Insurer Surveillance Of Claimants

Thursday, March 8th, 2018

We recently told you the story of a Canadian writer whose disability insurance provider reportedly denied his claim for benefits based on depression. In that post, we described a Toronto Star article about an allegation that the insurer in that case had used as evidence pictures posted on social media that showed the claimant looking happy. We have had a client had this happen to them in the past on a claim for depression, where the claimant was seen “smiling” on surveillance.

Even a layperson knows that having clinical depression does not mean that a patient never smiles or does not spend time with loved ones such as at family gatherings. In fact, many medical professionals who treat depression are likely to tell patients to try to participate in life when they can because it is good therapy for their disease.

Still, disability claimants may want to consider refraining from social media since snapshots of life can be misleading if they imply more ability than really exists. This is even more so where a disability insurance company selectively considers information, another common tactic.

Problems with insurance company surveillance

It is well known that insurance companies use a variety of surveillance tactics to try to discredit claims of disability. Traditionally, they have used actual physical surveillance. For example, an investigator may park outside the home of a disability claimant to film any of the claimant’s visible activities or trail the person’s vehicle as he or she performs errands.

As we explained in our earlier post, insurers are increasingly finding it cheaper to outsource online research surveillance of disability claimants such as monitoring social media to try to find pictures of claimants acting in ways that could be argued are inconsistent with disability claims.

The problem with any kind of surveillance is that it does not tell the whole story or it can be taken out of context.

A Hawaiian exposé

The nonprofit investigative news outlet Honolulu Civil Beat recently published an online series of articles that took an in-depth look at insurance-company surveillance tactics in the context of workers’ compensation claimants.

Of course, a workers’ compensation claim is in some fundamental ways different from a disability insurance claim. However, the way they are alike is that in both kinds of claims, it is in the insurance company’s financial interest to try to show that the injured or ill claimant is not as disabled or as sick as he or she claims. Thus, the tactics employed may often be similar.

Sometimes, an insurer tries to show this in an effort to deny a claim, get out of paying medical bills or terminate someone who has been receiving benefits for a period of time. In Part 2 of this post, we will elaborate further on insurer surveillance issues and share examples from the Hawaiian article.

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