Washington Court Finds Omaha Wrongfully Relied on Video Surveillance to Deny Disability Benefits

The court discounted the video surveillance, finding “The video surveillance footage was of marginal, if any, relevance.” The court continued, “The surveillance video of Ms. Young does not depict activity inconsistent with her reported limitations. The video does not demonstrate Ms. Young has the ability to work full-time in her regular occupation.” The court ordered that the plaintiff was entitled to long term disability benefits due to her inability to perform her regular occupation and ordered the parties to come to an agreement as to the amount of damages.

Claim for Disability Benefits, Video Surveillance and Administrative Review

The plaintiff left her job as a Database Systems Engineer at Spokane’s Teacher’s Credit Union due to frequent headaches, neck and shoulder pain. Although her pain may have been caused by cervical spine degeneration, her treating physician believed it was exacerbated by her job which required her to spend a lot of time hovering over a computer screen. He expected her disability to last at least 12 months during which time she would be unable “to perform any of her basic work activities.” Omaha ordered an IME by a neurologist. Following the exam, the neurologist agreed with the assessment of the treating physician that the plaintiff was disabled.

Not satisfied with its own medical examiner’s report, Omaha conducted video surveillance of plaintiff over a four-day period of time. The videos showed plaintiff walking her dog, driving to medical appointments and to church. Omaha sent the tapes to its medical examiner with a list of what the Washington federal court considered to be leading questions. The court found the questions to be “reflective of bias and intended to reach a desired conclusion.” The examining physician agreed with Omaha that the videos supported the view that the plaintiff was not disabled. In response, the court expressed some discomfort with the “‘independent’ medical examiner acquiescing to defendant’s advocacy.”

Court Analysis of the Videos

The court found the videos were entirely consistent with activity the plaintiff had claimed she was capable of performing. Walking her dog was consistent with her claim that she walked for exercise six days a week. Nothing in the videos contradicted her claims of pain making it impossible for her to perform the duties of her regular job. The videos were also consistent with the reports of her treating physician and the initial report of the independent medical examiner. The court concluded, “The surveillance video of Ms. Young does not depict activity inconsistent with her reported limitations. The video does not demonstrate Ms. Young has the ability to work full-time in her regular occupation… The plaintiff has established she was disabled under the Policy and unable to perform the material duties of her regular occupation.”

This case was not handled by our office, but it may provide claimants guidance in their pursuit of long term disability benefits and how video surveillance conducted by the insurer can be used by plaintiffs to support their claim. If you need assistance with a similar matter, please contact any of our lawyers for a free consultation.

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