When Disability Insurance Companies Use Surveillance Evidence Against You
Have you ever felt like someone was watching you? Or maybe you’ve had the eerie feeling that someone was following you. Unfortunately, you might have been right.
Surveillance is when someone follows another person around, typically to uncover some hidden truth. For insurance companies, surveillance is often used to dispute the alleged restrictions and limitations of a person claiming disability.
When an insurer suspects that claimants may have exaggerated or enlarged their disability claims, insurers can lawfully surveil them—in certain areas. These tactics are common in both individuals and in group long-term disability claims.
Generally, insurance companies are permitted to surveil you in any place where you do not have a “reasonable expectation of privacy” or if you have signed an authorization to allow the insurance company to gather information about your claim, rest assured that’s what the paparazzi used to gain access to your gate-guarded community.
Private places with a signed authorization, however, are off-limits. The inside of your home, for example, is a place that most American citizens consider resolutely private. In your home, you are not in public. You are, in a grand sense, in a private place. Here, you are not reasonably expected to believe that someone is listening in on your conversations or observing your movements. If an investigator videotapes or photographs you in private spaces—like in your bedroom, bathroom, or any other area of your home—the surveillance is generally illegal. The law seeks to protect people’s sense of privacy in places where the expectation of privacy is legitimate.
In public places, however, like an amusement park, your doctor’s office, or your gym, you have no expectation of privacy. It should not surprise you to know that someone may have seen or overheard you—for any number or reasons—in public, common areas. As a result, insurance companies may lawfully surveil you in public places (which are mostly all places outside of your house)—with certain exceptions.
Significant Terms to Remember
Precise definitions of the various forms of surveillance will vary. General tactics, however, are used to surveil claimants with individual and group long-term disability claims, including:
- Fixed surveillance: This is more commonly known as a “stakeout.” Here, the investigator watches the subject of interest from a distance and typically from a distinct location or locations. Sometimes, fixed surveillance can involve more than one investigator, and it may take place during a short or long period of time. Insurance companies may use this tactic to observe a claimant’s normal daily routines, and generally from 5 a.m. till at least 7 p.m.
- Stationary technical surveillance: This form of surveillance is similar to fixed surveillance. The primary difference is that stationary technical surveillance reduces the need for a human investigator. Typically, technology is fixed in places you frequent, instead of a human investigator who stakes you out. Examples may include video and sound recorders.
- Tracking: Tracking is simply the act of determining where you’re going and where you’ve been. Time frames vary. Sometimes, investigators may literally follow you around inconspicuously. Other times, investigators use various tracking technologies. These mechanisms can include GPS tracking and location app—among other things.
How Disability Insurance Companies Use Surveillance to Deny Disability Claims
If you recently filed an individual or long-term disability insurance claim, your insurance company may surveil you. While the thought of being recorded and photographed is surely unsettling, it is an unfortunate—yet mostly legal—reality of disability-insurance claims investigations.
Here are several factors to consider about the legality and practical use of surveillance to discredit disability claims.
Surveillance: Is It legal?
Many policyholders rightfully question whether their insurance company can legally conduct surveillance on them. As mentioned, the general answer to whether the surveillance was legal depends on whether you have already signed an overbroad authorization allowing your insurance company access, and how and where the surveillance took place.
Insurance companies are entitled to evaluate the validity of the information that you submit in your disability claim forms. They do this by shadowing you in public to determine any inconsistencies between the restrictions/limitations you and your doctor have reported regarding bending, lifting, carrying, standing, walking, carrying, and climbing.
If you are in public—such as driving, shopping, exercising, or even at dinner in a restaurant—it is legal (and common) for insurance companies to record and videotape you.
Be Wary of Home Visits From Insurance Field Representatives
Insurers may also use field visits to verify their surveillance. Field visits happen when your disability carrier sends or hires a representative to meet with you face-to-face to talk about your disability benefit claim at your own home or office. While these field visits can seem innocuous, insurance carriers often have other motives for entering your office or home:
- To see where you live, what your drive, how long you sit, stand, or walk during the interview
- Did you have focus, concentration, or memory issues during the interview
- How long did the interview last in relation to your sitting, standing, and walking tolerances
If you agree to a field visit, you are inviting the insurance representative into your home or office. You waive your otherwise reasonable expectation of privacy during a field visit to which you consent. It becomes reasonable, then, to believe that this person will take note of what he sees or hears in your home or office.
Do not consent to a field visit without having one of the seasoned, top-rated disability lawyers of DarrasLaw present to represent you. Learn more about the implications of submitting to a field visit here.
Note that insurers may legally conduct surveillance on you more than once if they choose to, and often surveil for multiple days in a row to eliminate the “I have good days and bad days” argument.
Why Do These Companies Surveil People? The Reality of Insurance Fraud
The Coalition Against Insurance Fraud estimates that fraud steals $80 billion a year across all lines of insurance. Insurance companies have a financial responsibility to their stockholders to pay only legitimate claims, which is why many use surveillance to identify and deny fraudulent claims.
Insurance fraud can also hurt other policyholders. According to the FBI, insurance fraud can cost the average American family between $400 and $700 each year in the form of increased premiums.
Surveillance can help you when your insurer is proactive about denying illegitimate claims—it keeps your premiums lower.
To shore up their profits, however, insurance companies often use the pretense of fraud to delay, undervalue, and wrongfully deny valid claims.
How Insurance Companies Collect Intel to Surveil You
When you filed your claim for individual or long-term disability benefits, your insurance company likely asked you to specify which activities you can do and for how long. The insurer may have also asked you to complete an activity log detailing your typical daily activities by the hour for a two week period.
While this information does provide a clearer picture of your time spent during disability, insurers can also use it determine when and where to surveil you—to collect evidence that undermines your valid disability claim.
Investigators will try to catch you performing activities that your claimed disability should limit or prohibit. The insurer can then use this “evidence” to deny your disability claim. In some cases, the insurer could also allege that your disability claim was fraudulent and attempt to rescind your policy.
If you are requested to participate in an independent medical exam (IME), the insurer may try to conduct surveillance the day before, the day of, and the day after the exam. This will allow the insurer to directly compare your public behavior to your exam results and look for any inconsistencies in symptoms or limitations as described by their medical professional.
Beware of Social Media Surveillance
During the last several years, insurance companies have increasingly relied on social media to investigate policyholders, as it can provide opportunities to uncover information that may conflict with or contradict information presented in your disability claim.
According to an article by insurance company GenRe, social media investigation is an increasingly popular form of surveillance because “Monitoring these sites is a cheaper and quicker way of gaining insight into a claimant’s activities and domestic situation than arranging surveillance or a home visit. Theoretically at least, it also provides an opportunity for a more genuine appraisal of the true level of functional capacity.”
Harvard neuroscientists say we cannot help but share our thoughts, which often leads to oversharing on social media. Unfortunately, these habits can pose a problem for the fate of a disability claim.
Insurance companies may directly compare the language you use in your disability claim forms to your social media activity. If you reported, for example, that you are never able to lift more than 20 pounds—but a picture on social media shows you carrying around a small child who clearly weighs more—your insurance company could deny your disability claim.
How often do you see someone on social media crying in pain, limping at the grocery store, or documenting on Facebook their restrictions and limitations? In many cases, the assumptions drawn from your social media activity may prove unfair or inaccurate, as people tend to show only a small and “cleaned up” version of their lives on social media—the “good days.” We realize that even disabled people have very occasional good days. Nonetheless, insurers can use evidence of these good days against you. Any information you willingly share with the public is free for your insurance company to use. Stay off social media or take great care and post about your inability to reliably sit, stand, walk, bend, lift, push/pull, kneel, climb, and how your medications make you dizzy and loopy.
What Can You Do About It?
If you discover your insurance company has run surveillance on you and is attempting to use this “evidence” against you, do not feel intimidated. An experienced disability insurance attorney or ERISA lawyer at DarrasLaw can help you determine whether the insurance company illegally followed you or misconstrued and exaggerated any findings to construct a false narrative about your disability.
You can also safeguard against social media surveillance with a few simple steps. Learn more about auditing your social media use.
If Surveillance Has Led to the Termination of Your Disability Insurance Benefits, Fight Back!
If your disability claim was wrongfully denied for surveillance or social media reasons, the compassionate, top-rated disability insurance lawyers and ERISA attorneys at DarrasLaw may help:
- You were surveilled by a private investigator who took video of you that your insurer alleges invalidates your disability claims
- A false assertion that your disabling condition was pre-existing and does not qualify for disability benefits under your policy
- An insurer’s failure to follow the terms of its own plan when deciding your eligibility for disability benefits, changing the interpretation of an “own occupation” policy to an “any occupation” policy, or using a vocational expert to say you’re capable of working when you actually cannot
- Endless requests for duplicative claim documentation, only to be told that the documentation supplied is incomplete, unsatisfactory, or never received
- A refusal to supplement Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) as required when the disability benefits promised by the policy exceed those received from SSDI
- An improperly credentialed, insurer-hired doctor reviews your file and determines that you are not disabled, or talks to your treating doctor and determines that you are ready to return to work before that is actually possible
Hold on to Those Disability Papers!
If your insurance company wrongfully denies your disability claim, fighting back is the only possibility you have for a fair and different outcome.
Keep (or retrieve) copies of all correspondence between you and your insurer—whenever possible.
Find what you can, make note of the documents you remember submitting but can’t locate, and save everything else moving forward.
If Legitimate Disability Claims Are Wrongfully Denied or Terminated
Insurance companies act in bad faith more often than one might imagine. If you have filed or are preparing to file an individual or long-term disability insurance claim, or believe your disability benefits were wrongfully denied, contact DarrasLaw’s seasoned, top-rated long-term disability insurance attorneys and ERISA lawyers for a free policy consultation or claim help.
At Darras Law, our nationwide disability insurance law firm has seen more, evaluated more, and resolved more individual and long-term disability cases than others across the country. We understand that a disability can damage your income suddenly and unpredictably. We are here to assist and fight for the disability benefits you paid richly for and deserve. We evaluate cases throughout the United States.
We have recovered nearly $1 billion on behalf of disabled people who may be just like you—unsure of where to turn. Turn to us. While insurers have a right to protect their business interests, they should not do so by using bad-faith tactics to wrongfully delay or deny your valid disability benefits. There is no risk involved in contacting us.
We can help you can fight back! When enough is enough, reach out to us to discuss your disability claim options. Call DarrasLaw today at (800) 458-4577 or contact us online for your free policy analysis and claim consultation.