For Court, Seeing is Believing (or not Believing): Video Surveillance and Credibility in Long-Term Disability Claims
By: Andrew B. Bryant
The scenario is familiar: an insurance carrier denies a disability claim based, at least in part, on covert video surveillance of the claimant. A recent decision by the District Court of the Western District of Tennessee displays how video surveillance can be used by a Court not only as substantive evidence to evaluate degree of disability, but also as a n important tool in assessing the credibility of the entire claim.
In the case, Plaintiff Gregory Eaton had been receiving Long-Term Disability (LTD) benefits from Defendant Reliance Standard Life Insurance Company due to a back condition that involved a discectomy and related chronic back pain. In 2015, after approximately eight years of LTD benefit payments, Reliance terminated benefits based in significant part on a physician’s independent file review of the claimant’s medical records and video surveillance of the claimant engaged in various activities, including riding off-road in a jeep, loading a vehicle, bending, using both arms, lifting and riding in a vehicle for periods of time.
In affirming the denial of benefits, the Court reviewed the claimant’s medical history and the findings of the claimant’s treating physicians (“disabled”) and the opinion of a physician who conducted an independent file review (“not disabled”). In resolving these conflicting medical opinions, the Court pointed to the video surveillance, making the distinct point that the video not only showed a certain level of activity, but more so contradicted the claimant’s prior statements to Reliance and doctors regarding his daily activities. The Court summed up its view of Eaton’s credibility (and by inference the credibility of the entire claim) in stating, “[t]he surveillance videos contradict Plaintiff’s self-reported symptoms and limitations because Plaintiff ‘conducted himself in a manner contrary to [his] claimed level of functionality.’” In reviewing the Court’s opinion, the video surveillance in this case may not have been sufficient on its own to support the claim denial, but the video was clearly sufficient to damage Eaton’s credibility in the Court’s eyes as to his “self-reported symptoms” and tip the balance of the conflicting medical evidence in Reliance’s direction.
This case further displays that video surveillance can be an important tool used by insurance carriers in investigating a claimant’s activities and limitations. However, the broader impact of surveillance as to a Court’s credibility determinations in reviewing a claimant’s statements to doctors, insurance representatives and others is often of even greater import. In short, what a disability claimant says can be as important as what that claimant does. Accurate and compliant reporting of symptoms, activities and other relevant facts, with assistance of counsel to ensure that this information is fully and correctly documented, is essential to ensuring a proper claim resolution.
See, Eaton v. Reliance Standard Life Insurance Company, No. 216CV02764TLPCGC, 2018 WL 3639837 (W.D. Tenn. July 31, 2018).