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The role of social-media evidence in disability insurance claims

Wednesday, February 28th, 2018

Canadian media has exploded with a story that broke a couple of weeks ago about a well-known Canadian writer and professor whose disability insurance claim for depression was denied after he took a leave of absence. According to the Toronto Star, the author’s physician informed him that the disability insurer had denied the claim after viewing pictures on social media in which he looked happy and active.

Treating physician opinions important

Reportedly, a provincial doctors’ organization spoke out in response against insurers that relied on “their own roster of doctors paid to review and pick apart clients’ cases” instead of the “diagnoses of front-line physicians.”

Of course, provincial and Canadian federal law would apply to the insurance issues in this claim, but the problem of disability insurers not giving appropriate weight to treating doctors while seeming to stretch for other evidence to discredit their opinions and deny claims certainly exists in this country too.

Social-media evidence in disability claims by professionals

The article cites a Canadian disability attorney for the opinion that “depression, anxiety and burnout are the most common causes for medical leaves among … ‘higher-value claims’ such as doctors, lawyers, bankers, professors and business people” since benefits normally consist of monthly payments based on a portion of regular pay.

In the Canadian lawyer’s view, because this type of professional claimants’ benefits is expensive, insurers are more likely to use “physical and online surveillance to verify or contest their claims.”

While treatment for mental health problems can include advice to try to engage in life activities more, when the patient follows this advice and a picture of the claimant doing so ends up on social media, it can hurt his or her depression or other emotional disability claim if it is picked up by the insurer.

U.S. disability insurers also use social media

Bloomberg recently published an article about the same practices happening here. The author names Principal Life, Aetna, Sun Life, First Reliance Standard, MetLife and Unum as having used social-media evidence to terminate or deny disability benefits.

Reportedly, disability insurers are often using investigation firms to do Internet and social-media research on claimants. One firm cited in the Bloomberg article estimated that “60 to 70 percent of disability insurers” use social-media mining of claimant activity. A claimants’ attorney interviewed for the article estimated that social-media posts become crucial issues in approximately 15 percent of her cases.

Anyone whose disability claim was denied because of social-media posts should speak with a lawyer as soon as possible about how to challenge this evidence.

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