Disability Law and Video Surveillance

Disability insurance companies are notorious for conducting video surveillance of disability insurance claimants. A disability company will rely on 30 seconds of video footage in order to deny a claim. For example, we had a client with a neck injury that was observed swimming and turning her head for 30 seconds. As a result the disability company denied her benefits and claimed that if she could swim, then she can return to working 40 hours a week. The court disagreed. The case law is absolutely clear that a person eligible for disability insurance benefits does not need to be helpless.

Video surveillance becomes a problem for disability insurance claimants when they tell either their doctor or the insurance company that they can not conduct certain activities, but they will then be seen on video performing the exact activity they claim to be unable to perform. For example, we had a client that claimed he could not stand for more than 15 minutes without having to take a break. After filing a lawsuit, the disability company presented video surveillance of our client working the counter at a sandwhich shop without any difficulties. This client was not honest and the video surveillance clearly contradicted his statements. The case had to be dropped. We always tell our clients to assume that they are under video surveillance at all times.

Disability insurance carriers will often conduct video surveillance at the following times:

  1. A few days or weeks before, during and after a requested IME exam,
  2. some point during the 3-6 months before a definition of disability changes from own-occupation to any occupation, and
  3. a few days or weeks before and after an in-person interview the claimant.

A disability insurance company can conduct video surveillance of a person if they appear anywhere in the public. The only place that the disability carrier can not conduct surveillance would be inside the claimant’s home. A disability claimant does not need to live in fear that the disability carrier is watching them, but the claimant should always conduct themselves with caution and never exaggerate or overstate their limitations.

Comments (34)

  • Scott, as we do not handle disability retirement (only claims through disability insurance policies) or workers compensation claims I would not be able to give an accurate estimate as to how often they would continue to surveil you. In disability insurance policies, the investigators do not film from private property such as a neighbor’s back yard without consent. If something were to be captured it could be used against you, but the medical evidence will always be the most relevant part of any claim.

    Stephen Jessup Nov 26, 2017  #34

  • I have been awarded military service connected compensation, along with workers compensation (paid out twice from civilian employment…once just recently) and was also granted a disability retirement separate from the workers comp. There is a nexus with the same civilian government agency for all three of the above.

    Three part question: How routine is it for them to continue surveillance after winning both my workers comp and disability retirement? Would it be legal for then to film me in my backyard from a neighbor’s house? And if they did film doing something physical on a good day – how would that likely weigh against a doctor’s opinion and diagnostic evidence that clearly shows my medical issues?

    Thanks for any info!

    Scott Nov 25, 2017  #33

  • Eric, you certainly can. We have used “day in the life” videos of clients to submit to an insurance carrier. It will all be made part of your claim file/administrative record so I would say go for it.

    Stephen Jessup Jun 6, 2017  #32

  • Hello,

    Can you submit evidence of your “bad days” via video to a carrier?

    I also have pictures of accident that would support my claim of post concussion syndrome.

    Thank you in advance

    Eric May 31, 2017  #31

  • Coco, some insurance carriers utilize surveillance a great deal and some very rarely. Although we cannot say not to be cognizant of the fact it might be happening, chances are the carrier will not conduct surveillance at the beginning of an LTD claim.

    Stephen Jessup Aug 16, 2016  #30

  • I have just gone from std to ltd. I have just received paperwork from new case manager whom I have not spoke to yet. Is there generally a time period that ins co will do surveillance? The article above lists Disability insurance carriers will often conduct video surveillance at the following times:
    1.A few days or weeks before, during and after a requested IME exam,
    2.some point during the 3-6 months before a definition of disability changes from own-occupation to any occupation, and
    3.a few days or weeks before and after an in-person interview the claimant.
    Should I worry too much that they would do surveillance at this point?

    coco Aug 12, 2016  #29

  • LMarie, if it is private property then arguably no, but if they can see you from the street then they would be able to. Unfortunately, all an insurance company needs to deny a claim is a doctor to provide an opinion that you can work. That doesn’t mean the denial will hold, but it can be enough to result in one in the first place. What is the current status of your claim now? Please feel free to contact our office if you would like to discuss further.

    Stephen Jessup Feb 9, 2016  #28

  • I know what they do is legal but, I truly feel like my rights are being violated and my personal space. If my doctors states that I am not fit to work then an insurance so pant should not be able to follow me around to try and suggest that I can. Of course I’m not in as much pain as I was when I was at work….I am on serious pain meds!!

    I can’t believe this is legal. Insurance companies always try to walk the line of almost fraudulent like a tight rope. This is a shame that I have to look over my shoulder and basically be imprisoned in my own home (because I already have huge anxiety problems as it is). Don’t they see that the stress of waiting months for 60% of regular pay causes stress which probably makes most people more sick than they already are?!?!

    LMarie Feb 8, 2016  #27

  • Can the insurance company conduct video surveillance inside the gates of my apartment complex? For instance, to see if I’m able to go up the stairs to get to my apartment on the second floor or in order to see if I’m able to carry groceries to my apartment? I am concerned because, on the doses of Norco and Valium, sometimes I can or will force myself to carry the groceries up the stairs.

    I have a surgery scheduled for a slipped disc in my neck and severe nerve damage that causes numbness and (at times) the ability to use my right arm and specifically my hand.

    But if I have no help, having a grocery bag hanging to my side isn’t extremely hard to do. Sometimes I do drop the bags because I can’t help when I completely lose use of my right arm and hand. But I feel as though they will use footage of the day I can make it up the stairs and edit out the footage of I drop a bag and or show that I am having trouble with the task.

    I am doctor ordered to not work or drive while on my medication and because I shouldn’t/can’t sit or stand longer than an hour. And to prevent further nerve damage. Can the insurance company ignore my doctors’ orders and say I’m capable even though I have surgery scheduled in less than a month which is also complicated by a bleeding disorder (vWD).

    I guess to sum it up: can they do surveillance inside the gates of my apartment complex? And can they try and make the case that I am able when my surgeon and pain management doctors say I absolutely cannot work until after surgery?

    LMarie Feb 8, 2016  #26

  • Ronda,

    It would depend on the nature of the policy and the level of litigation.

    Stephen Jessup Nov 22, 2015  #25

  • When the insurance company does video surveillance – can you get a court order that the unedited tapes be provided. Also, requested that the surveillance information be examine by qualified forensic examiners to show that material captured supporting your case has not been removed? I have seen a case where this was done and the company had edited out sections of the video. (Confirmed by 2 different labs that original recordings had been tampered with. The video was not allowed to be used in court.)

    Ronda B. Nov 21, 2015  #24

  • CM,

    If you have previously signed releases and/or authorizations for release of information there is often language allowing for the carrier to share your information with agents of the company.

    Stephen Jessup Aug 25, 2015  #23

  • My insurance company shared my diagnosis with the PI they hired to tape me. Isn’t this a major breach of health privacy?

    CM Aug 24, 2015  #22

  • John,

    A disability insurance company can place you under surveillance at time you file your claim.

    Stephen Jessup May 12, 2015  #21

  • Can they video you just because you opened a claim? Or they only do that after your approved.

    JOHN May 11, 2015  #20

  • Sarah,

    I agree 100% with you as it relates to “good days” and “bad days.” The only problem is that an insurance carrier rarely catches someone on a bad day; as such they make full use of the good day footage to paint someone as dishonest. Before filing an appeal of the denial please feel free to contact our office to discuss your husband’s claim.

    Stephen Jessup Jul 18, 2014  #19

  • What about people having “good” days and “bad” days. The insurance company just “happened” to video my husband on a “good” day for him. Taped him playing with the kids and such. Which are things he can do on a “good” day, not without pain but he can bear it for the sake of the kids. What they did NOT tape, or didn’t bother to use, were the days that followed his “good” day. He was so stiff and sore that I had to help him get around the house, and out to our car. He fell in the house, and I had to help him up. The only info in the cancelation of benefits letter is the stuff he was able to do that particular day, and not the consequence he paid for doing it after.

    Sarah Jul 17, 2014  #18

  • Thank you for your reply. I am still on LTD but receive NO monies… I only receive insurance which I pay the premium for.

    T. Schuster May 21, 2014  #17

  • T,

    If you are not actively on long term disability I would not expect that they would place you under any surveillance.

    Stephen Jessup May 16, 2014  #16

  • If my long tern carrier is NOT paying me monthly, and they have been paid back the small amount they did pay me when I received my SSDI back pay, would they have someone doing surveillance? The only thing I get from them is insurance for me and my wife (I pay the premium) I do not use the insurance because I have medicare and a supplemental. I saw someone outside my house, taking what looked like photos yesterday. Why would they waste money doing this if they are paying me nothing?

    T. Schuster May 15, 2014  #15

  • Jane,

    When it best suits their needs. Typically they will use in denying a claim for benefits and at trial.

    Stephen Jessup Apr 25, 2014  #14

  • When do insurance companies use the footage they obtained? As soon as they get it or later during a trial?

    Jane Jacobs Apr 24, 2014  #13

  • Jayne,

    I think that is just artful language that they didn’t see you at all so they figured you were inside. With respect to them contacting your doctor’s office, if that is true, I don’t see why your doctor would risk patient confidentiality in providing that information, unless there was an authorization on file granting permission to your providers to communicate with the carrier, or as the case may be the carrier’s “agent.”

    Stephen Jessup Apr 6, 2014  #12

  • Apparently I wasn’t feeling well, because I had not come out of the house for a couple of days. Unbeknownst to me, my disability insurance company was attempting to videotape me. In their documentation they wrote “using video surveillance tactics, we were able to ascertain the claimant was inside the house”. That was very disturbing to me. Do you have any idea what sort of “surveillance tactics” they may have used? Also, because they were unsuccessful taping me, they called my pain management doctors office to see when my next appointment was, so they could (and did) do surveillance on me that day. Is that legal? Everything I’ve just written is straight out of their notes!

    Jayne Apr 5, 2014  #11

  • Laura,

    Attorney-client privilege only exists between the attorney and the client/prospective client. If you are in public and your conversation is overheard, the person overhearing is not subject to that privilege and is free to discuss what was heard.

    Stephen Jessup Jan 16, 2014  #10

  • I understand video surveillance can be done where the person has a right to be (i.e., in public) but one has to wonder about taping an attorney and their client. Specifically, what effect does it have on the attorney-client privilege to have secure communications? For instance, let’s say a videographer gets an attorney and their client on tape (all are in a public space). Let’s factor in that people can sometimes read lips or make out portions of what is being said.

    Laura Jan 15, 2014  #9

  • Leslie,

    I have never seen a disability insurance company obtain credit card statements without a claimant’s permission. When you sign authorisations in the future, cross out anything having to do with your bank statements or credit request. They are not entitled to this information.

    Gregory Dell Feb 22, 2013  #8

  • What if they can’t get you on video? I’ve recently had an IME and I have literally been staying in my apartment for weeks, ordering pizza, rarely leave because im so scared of these people, unless it’s very late at night to buy cigarettes. It’s a big 25 story building in Chicago. I have a nervous condition. It’s been so long since I’ve been out in the day they might doubt I live there, which makes we worry about what else they might do. Can an insurance company or their spies legally access your credit card information, see your purchases etc? I know I signed something that gave them the right to request bank records, but to the question of credit cards, do they do that kind of thing? Either ask to look at your statement or retrieve it some other way? Is that typical? Or am I being a little paranoid?

    Leslie Feb 21, 2013  #7

  • David,

    You are in a challenging situation. If your policy defines disability as the inability to perform any gainful occupation, then I think you need to try the job. Prior to starting the new position, I would send a letter to your employer stating that you are not sure if you could do the job they are offering, but you are willing to try. If they fire you quickly, then you will have the letter to prove that you were still disabled, but attempting to work.

    Gregory Dell Jun 14, 2012  #6

  • I have lost most of my eyesight in one eye. The two retinal operations to reattach the retina have left me dizzy, noxious and with severe migraine pain in my head. As a Class A CDL truck driver I’m scared to drive a truck without killing myself or someone else do to the medical condition. The company wants to offer me a desk job with high pressure monitoring and computer screens which aggravates my migraine pain thus intern they will fire me shortly down the road for lack of work abilities. Will I be able to get my LTD after trying to take the new position and failing? Should I just fight for LTD and not accept there political tactics to remove me later?

    David Jun 7, 2012  #5

  • Marcus,

    It should not be a problem for you to travel. You are heavily medicated while traveling. You could never work in that condition. One day of travel is much different than working 40 hours a week with travel.

    Gregory Dell Apr 23, 2012  #4

  • I’m on long term disability and it will be 3 years now in August. I have COPD and Peripheral Neuropathy plus my urinary system is destroyed due to cancer radiation and I refuse operation to place bag on my stomach. I have all my relatives overseas, I have difficulty sitting for a long time in one position but in a airplane seat that can recline I can change position often. I also take morphine and oxycodone for my pain and that makes it easier to sit and since I don’t use my head during the flight it makes the trip OK. I don’t watch any TV or video during the flight since I get headaches. Is it OK for me to travel or can it be hold against me? I one time asked the insurance company and they said it was OK.

    Marcus Apr 23, 2012  #3

  • Roy, if you are in public, then the insurance company can video tape the claimant without your permission. The same rules regarding video generally apply to a spouse and children. Click here to view our Frequently Asked Question where we answered this question.

    Gregory Dell Jan 5, 2011  #2

  • It is legal to video the claimant, but what about the spouse and a minor daughter?

    Roy Matthews Dec 30, 2010  #1

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