Deceptive Surveillance of Disability Claimants is Invasion of Privacy

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Surveillance is a common practice among disability insurers. Insurance companies often enter into lucrative deals with security and surveillance firms in an endeavor to “catch” individuals performing activities that conflict with their claimed limitations. While this usually involves observing an insured outside of the home running errands or performing basic activities of daily living, the British security firm G4S has taken the tactic one step further.

G4S has now come under fire for using deceptive tactics to film disability claimants inside their own homes. Daily Mail, September 16, 2012. The UK’s Daily Mail reports that G4S regularly sends its surveillance agents to a claimant’s front door posed as a delivery person, and wearing a miniature hidden camera in what is known as the “parcel pretext.”

One “parcel pretext” victim–Tanya Joiner, who suffers from arthritis and fibromyalgia, among other conditions–has now brought suit against G4S, alleging that one of the company’s agents entered her home purporting to deliver a catalogue. When her husband advised that she was too ill to come to the door and sign for the delivery, the agent went into her living room and insisted that she sign for the package herself. In doing so, the agent obtained footage of the inside of Ms. Joiner’s home. Ms. Joiner’s insurer, Zurich, ultimately denied her disability benefits. Though G4S insists it followed legal procedures, it appears that it never obtained the government authorization necessary to film the inside of Ms. Joiner’s home.

While the G4S litigation takes place in England, the Federal Courts in the United States have ruled against insurers’ improper use of surveillance, such as denying disability benefits where a claimant was merely observed performing the basic activities of daily living, or ignoring the fact that a claimant is visibly uncomfortable or in pain when performing these activities. See Barrett v. Sedgwick CMS Long-Term Disability Plan, and Mountour v. Hartford Life & Accident Ins. Co.

We at Bonny G. Rafel know the lengths to which insurers will go in order to gather evidence that they can finesse into a denial. We have fought insurers on a variety of improper surveillance tactics. Unfortunately, claimants applying for or receiving disability benefits can expect to be surveilled. If you are receiving benefits, be sure that the activities you perform are reflective of the restrictions and limitations that you have provided the insurance company. If your activities conflict with the information you provide, it may inspire your insurer to view your claim with skepticism and make it more difficult for you to obtain your benefits. Contact us for advice on how to minimize the effects of this surveillance on your claim.

–By Sara E. Kaplan, Esq.

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