Imagine this scenario: you’ve been on long-term disability for several years due to a back injury, and suddenly you receive notice that your benefits are being terminated. Your insurance company says that they have evidence that you are not as limited or disabled as you claim.
Where did they get this evidence? Insurance companies use a variety of techniques. As we discussed in our June article, surveillance has always been a mainstay, and increasingly, with the arrival and ubiquity of social media, they now can just monitor your posts for clues. Are all these techniques legal? What recourse do you have if you’re denied benefits because of a photo or comment you posted online?
Surveillance and Long-Term Disability Claims:
Photos and video footage have long been the staple of insurance companies investigating a disability claim. If they can catch you in a video or photo showing that your disability is exaggerated or fabricated, they can deny your claim or terminate the benefits you’ve been receiving.
So long as you are in a location where there is no “reasonable expectation of privacy,” they are free to follow you, photograph you, or take videos of you. You can even be in a gym or a market and they can follow you with their image-capturing devices.
A lot of their work has been made easier with the rise of social media. They can and will scour your accounts and look for photos or videos that you post, or content that your followers post about you. They can use these photos and posts to alert their surveillance crew to follow up.
What They Look For:
Insurance companies and their surveillance people are looking for any sign or clue that the disability you claim is either being exaggerated or fabricated. In either case, that can be grounds for denial or termination.
In the bad back example given above, suppose on your disability claim you said you cannot stand for more than five minutes, but they find a post of yours talking about attending a wedding and dancing with the bride. You cannot stand, but you can dance? What the insurance company doesn’t see is the days of rest leading up to that event and the pain you are in the following days and week because you tried to have some sense of normalcy. All they see is conflicting statement from you, and a basis for cutting you off.
Or in a post, you tell your followers that your doctor has advised you to walk around the block every day to try to strengthen your back. The insurance company can have a video crew out the next day to attempt to film you walking — and time it. If you walk for more than five minutes, there goes your claim that you cannot even stand up for five minutes. And, there goes your credibility with a Judge.
Suppose your disability is based on anxiety and depression that keep you from performing the tasks necessary to remain in your occupation. Insurance investigators find a Facebook entry about how much fun you had at a gathering with friends. What happened to the dysfunction caused by depression and anxiety? Of course, everyone tries to appear upbeat on social media, but by doing so, you may have opened an avenue for the insurance company to deny or terminate your benefits. What the insurer doesn’t know is how hard it was for you to attend and that you left early because you couldn’t handle it anymore.
Even a LinkedIn account where you list your job history and qualifications can be used against you if it implies that you are still working or looking for work. Make sure your account reflects the correct end date for the job you just left on long-term disability, and also that it does not appear like a puffed-up piece seeking new employment.
Steps to Protect Your Social Media:
If you have social media accounts, turn on the privacy settings and refrain from posting anything that can be construed as disproving your disability claim. Ask your friends and loved ones to use caution as well when posting about you. The insurers not only track your accounts but those of your friends and family as well. Most of all, don’t accept friend requests from people you don’t know. These could very well be the very people surveilling you.
Also, update the information on all of your accounts. Make sure nothing implies that you’re still working or seeking employment. In general, drop the “happy face” routine wherein everything is great in your life. Be honest and upfront about what’s happening. Don’t give these people any reason to dig deeper and send investigators after you.
And, of course, follow the best practices on “Steps to Protect Yourself” we laid out in June’s post on surveillance.
Get Help from Experienced Long-Term Disability Attorneys
You never know what the insurance company and their surveillance crew will find, so caution is the operative term when you’re applying for disability benefits or when you’re already receiving them. Be extremely detailed in your claims application. Don’t be vague or generalize too much. Give them examples of what your disability does to you and why it prevents you from working. When applying for disability, if you have questions, check with an experienced attorney and get everything reviewed before submitting it.
If your doctor advises you to take a walk every day, follow his orders but get it in writing and keep a log of your activities, noting the challenges and setbacks you face. Footage of you doing something that contradicts your claim for disability can be challenging to refute. Keep your own version of events by documenting everything.
If the insurer does deny your claim or ends your benefits, call us at Beedem Law immediately. We can consult with you and your physician(s) as we work to develop an appeal to fight for the benefits you deserve. Remember, though, if your disability claim is governed by ERISA (the Employee Retirement Income Security Act), you have 180 days to file an appeal. After that, it may be too late.
If you live in Minneapolis, or nearby in Duluth or St. Paul, or in the neighboring counties of Hennepin, Ramsey, Dakota, or Anoka, and your long-term disability claim has been denied or your benefits have been terminated — contact our firm, Beedem Law, today. Our attorneys will review your case and help you explore your legal options going forward. We can help you file a strong appeal and fight for your rights to obtain a favorable outcome.
Our firm is proud to serve clients throughout the State of Minnesota. Call today to learn more about how we can help you with your situation!