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If you are making a disability claim under your company’s long or short term disability policy, it is important to document your medical problems by treating with a physician regularly. You may run into a situation where you are claiming that you have serious physical problems and the administrator of the plan my have you video recorded in public places or out in your yard to determine if your level of impairment is what you say it is.
In the case of Eaton v. Reliance Standard Life Insurance, 2018 WL 3639837 (W.D. Tennessee July 31, 2018) the Court had to examine the use of this video surveillance to discontinue benefits.
In the Eaton case, the Plaintiff had been receiving ERISA long-term benefits for several years for orthopedic/neurological impairments. The Plaintiff’s plan administrator had the Plaintiff video surveilled. The Defendant insurance company used these videos to justify stopping the benefit it was paying to the Plaintiff. The Plaintiff argued that the video surveillance was unauthorized, that it did not contradict anything he claimed as a disability and that the insurance company should not have relied solely upon what was contained in the videos without considering other evidence.
The Court disagreed. It held that the plan administrator is not required to ignore the inconsistencies between the video and the Plaintiff’s assessment of his condition or between the video and the level of activity the Plaintiff is able to perform. However, the Court held, these inconsistencies must be “more than minor.”
The Court did agree that the plan administrator could not use the video as the sole evidence in denying the claim, and specifically stated that the plan administrator could not base a denial or termination solely on the video.
The Court further pointed out that the length of the video was relevant and that a video lasting only 20 minutes, or with the activity of the Plaintiff being only a short part of a longer video, would not be given much weight as proof.
The Court did state that an independent reviewing physician’s opinion may be given greater weight when that physician relies on both the medical record review and video surveillance to form that opinion.
In short, the Plaintiff here lost because the videos of his activities were long (the Court states, “hours at a time”) and this was coupled with his medical records and so the Court upheld the termination.