Video surveillance can be an effective tool in assessing the level of activity of the disabled claimant. But make sure the video surveillance is performed correctly, and use it properly.

Here’s the case of Eaton v. Reliance Standard Life Insurance, 2018 WL 3639837 (W.D. Tennessee July 31, 2018)(claim denial affirmed where independent physician reviewed medical records and observed claimant’s physical activities in hours of video surveillance).

FACTS: Eaton sought and received ERISA-governed long term disability benefits for several years for orthopedic/neurological impairments. After a review of medical records and surveillance, Reliance Standard discontinued benefits and Eaton sued claiming, in part, that Reliance Standard had improperly relied on surveillance video. Eaton argued: (1) the video surveillance was “unauthorized”; (2) the video did not contradict Eaton’s claimed disability; and, (3) relying solely on the surveillance, without other evidence, was improper.

ISSUE:  Whether Reliance Standard improperly relied on surveillance video in the claim denial?

DISTRICT COURT HELD: The video was properly relied upon in denying the disability claim.

  1. A plan administrator is not “‘required to ignore the inconsistencies between [a plaintiff’s] assessment of her [or his] level of activity and the videotape of [those] activities.’” Op. at 13.
  2. For the video surveillance to be meaningful, inconsistencies between the plaintiff’s assessment and the actual level of activity “must be more than minor.” Op. at 13.
  3. “[T]he Sixth Circuit requires that the plan administrator not base its decision to terminate benefits solely on surveillance footage.” Op. at 13 (emph. added).
  4. Surveillance video lasting only 20 minutes, with the claimant’s activity recorded only a few minutes at a time over a period of two hours, may not be given much, if any, weight. Op. at 14.
  5. The video in this case was helpful because it “showed Plaintiff partaking in activities for hours at a time.” Op. at 14.
  6. An independent reviewing physician’s opinion may be given greater weight when relying on a medical record review and video surveillance. Op. at 22.