Regardless of what you think of today’s headlines concerning the NSA’s surveillance program, disability claimants face the unpleasant reality that a certain level of their lives are and will be conducted under the watchful eye of another entity – their disability insurance company.
This may not have global implications, but if you are the person being monitored, it’s going to generate some issues and/or concerns for you.
If you are on the young side (under 35), had a high income (over $100K), expect that at some point in time your activities outside of your home will be watched and reported. Sometimes activities as benign as taking out the garbage or retrieving your mail will engender scrutiny.
If you are diagnosed with any of the “red flag” disabilities: Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) or Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD), expect that you will be monitored. Orthopedic impairments are also common claims where surveillance will occur.
What kind of surveillance do the disability insurance companies engage in?
They are not yet in the business of tapping phone lines, intercepting cell phone and texts or accessing your home computer or tablet to read emails. But a significant amount of information can be gathered even without electronic eavesdropping.
The use of video cameras is perhaps the most common and least expensive means of watching and recording your activities. Speaking at a national conference on litigating disability claims earlier this year, Jason Newfield noted that the video camera has become the baseline for surveillance, as the cost of videotaping an individual for extended periods of time has dropped to the hourly wage of the investigator’s subcontractor holding the camera.
The videotape is also extremely likely to show only a portion of your life – the times that you had to go to a doctor’s appointment and not the day and a half recovery afterwards. Video camera surveillance is challenged on a regular basis because it cannot and does not reflect all of daily activities. However – if the video camera shows you lifting heavy objects or strenuously working in your backyard and you have an orthopedic claim that centers on your inability to do any heavy lifting, your claim may be in serious jeopardy.
How do the insurance companies use the videotapes?
Typically, a Field Agent will show up, unannounced, at your home, brandishing a lap top or a tablet with the video loaded and ready to go. First, they will spend time with you outlining your maximum level of activity, in an effort to trap you. Then, they will show you the videotape in an attempt to intimidate and frighten the claimant and often, the claimant’s spouse. This is legally allowed, but it is not pleasant. The Field Agents are skilled in the tactic of frightening claimants.
Our clients are advised on their rights and responsibilities with regard to surveillance by the disability insurance company. We also discuss what they are allowed to do to protect themselves against these tactics. This includes only allowing a Field Agent into the home when it is convenient for the claimant, and never letting a Field Agent in the home when there are no witnesses available.
Some claimants ask if they are allowed to videotape or otherwise record the discussion with the Field Agent. This is a highly situational question, and our advice differs on a case-by-case basis.
If you are on claim or have filed a claim and believe that the insurance company is watching you, you are not paranoid. They very likely are. It is important to have the information that you need so that you know your rights and contractual responsibilities as a disability claimant so as not to put your claim in jeopardy.
Questions about surveillance? Call our office today at 877-LTD-CLAIM (877-583-2524) to learn how we can help.