When you file a claim for long-term disability (LTD) benefits, your LTD insurance carrier will begin an investigation, requesting and reviewing your medical records, speaking with your treating physician, even talking to your coworkers, colleagues, friends, family, and neighbors. It is also very common for LTD carriers to conduct video surveillance to determine whether your stated level of activity and/or limitations match your day-to-day activity. The video footage they gather they will use as evidence to either deny (most likely) or approve your claim for LTD benefits. Here is what you need to know about video surveillance.
How Is Video Surveillance Gathered?
If your LTD carrier decides to conduct video surveillance of you, they will typically hire a private investigator (PI) to surveille/watch your movements and activity over the course of a few days. They may do this a couple of times over the course of a few months. The PI may take photos or collect video of you when you are visible in public areas. They are not permitted to enter private property without permission or look into your windows or over your fence to gather footage. However, they can park on the street and film you getting in and out of your car at home, taking out the trash, walking your dog, etc. They may also follow and film you going to work, the grocery store, pumping gas, etc. Their goal is to capture your movement and activity to see if it matches the limitations you have described and/or that are in your medical records.
Why Do Insurance Companies Conduct Surveillance?
While your LTD insurance company may explain their desire to conduct surveillance and gather video of your movements as an unbiased means of documenting your physical abilities, know that an LTD carrier's decision to conduct surveillance is usually an attempt to generate evidence they can rely upon to deny your claim for LTD benefits. Remember that your level of activity and ability (or claimed inability) to undertake certain movements is the crux upon which your LTD carrier will rely in deciding to deny or approve your claim. They want to find evidence that proves—contrary to your position—that you can, in fact, perform the material duties of your “own occupation.”
Most often surveillance is used where there is some doubt about the claimant's credibility. If your reported symptoms and level of functioning are inconsistent with what would be expected from your medical condition or disability, this may serve as a reason for your LTD carrier to order surveillance.
An Example of How Surveillance Could affect Your LTD Claim
A real-world example can help to clarify why LTD insurance companies often conduct video surveillance and gather footage as evidence and how they might use it to deny your claim for LTD benefits. Let's say emergency physician, Dr. Smith, has suffered a back injury and is now struggling to perform some of the material duties of his job—twisting and lifting. Although we have warned about the dangers of using absolutes when describing your symptoms, let's assume Dr. Smith told his treating physician he is “never” able to twist or lift things. While he should have said “without pain” or some other qualification, he did not. His LTD insurance company decides to conduct surveillance and captures him outside of the grocery store twisting to and from his shopping cart and his trunk, lifting and placing bags. This footage will not bode well for Dr. Smith, and his LTD carrier will likely deny his claim, stating the evidence they gathered does not support the limitations Dr. Smith claims he suffers from.
Be Careful with What You Post on Social Media
In today's day and age, it is more common for LTD insurance carriers to forego the cost of hiring a PI to follow you around for a few days to gather video surveillance when so much of our lives are already posted and shared online. It's highly likely your LTD insurance carrier will be investigating you via social media platforms. In recent years, LTD insurance companies have slowly looking to platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other social media to monitor your activity levels and the things you do with your body. If you're filing a claim for long-term disability benefits, be very careful about what you post or what others post about you. A video of you playing kickball during the Saturday neighborhood BBQ would not sit well if you claim you are unable walk or jog without pain in your LTD claim.
Should You Worry About Video Surveillance?
As experienced LTD insurance attorneys who have been helping doctors and other medical professionals recover their LTD benefits for decades at Taylor, Warren, Weidner & Hancock, we get this question a lot, from clients who fear their LTD carrier will gather damning evidence. When they ask us whether they should worry about video surveillance, our answer is no. If you are not performing your own occupation and/or your activity level is consistent with your medical records and with what you have described it to be to your treating physician and insurance company, then you should not be the least concerned with surveillance. Although we know that is easier said than done. But, it is good to know this type of evidence can be gathered to remind you to be hyper-accurate when speaking to anyone about your medical condition and limitations.