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Disability Claims and Social Media

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By Justin Franke and Jason Newfield, Attorneys at Law • www.ProHealth.com • October 16, 2014


Disability Claims and Social Media. Image courtesy of digitalart at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of digitalart at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
One of the most powerful sources of information and community is the internet. That’s why Pro Health has been such a successful community for FM and CFS patients. As long as you have access to the internet, you can reach out to an entire world of people who are struggling with the same issues as you. Many support groups exist entirely online, and members may never meet in person, but through online chats, online video streams and even old-fashioned emails, we stay connected.

Unfortunately, disability insurance companies and their investigators were early adapters of social media. Rather than looking for community and support, they are looking for reasons to question and potentially terminate disability claims.

Even before Facebook replaced My Space, we have counseled our clients to be extremely careful with their online lives. This is not an easy piece of advice to hear. FM and CFS patients also suffer from the social isolation those results from not being able to go to work or be active in the outside world. Facebook posts, online forums and the many online resources available can sometimes feel like the only way you can connect with a community of individuals and professionals who truly understand the challenges and struggles you are experiencing.

Our role in this case must be the bearer of bad news: this same source of companionship and support can seriously undermine a claim and be used against you.

Last year, our blog reported on a federal case in Oregon that echoed a previous case where the court allowed the insurance company to incorporate social media communications in a lawsuit. The court requested all information posted by the person or anyone on her behalf or anything relating to her (i.e., a photo tag) on Facebook or MySpace. The amount of information is nerve wracking: all profiles, photos, updates, messages, wall posts, causes joined, blog entries and blurbs. In other words, this person’s entire social media life was being demanded as evidence and the court allowed it and required that it be gathered and used as evidence.

But there are security settings that allow me to limit how public my posts are, you may be thinking. And I don’t use my real name on the online forums, so no one can identify me. A good cyber-investigator can easily outwit any security settings you may place on your social media posts. A really good one can also string together enough information to identify even the most anonymous of posts. And a court order can compel you to reveal everything that is your social media life online.

We occasionally read about individuals who have claimed to be disabled or ill and then foolishly post photos of themselves engaging in highly demanding physical activities. These are usually pretty outrageous and sensible people respond that they would never do such a thing.

What we encounter in our practice is a more subtle problem. Posts of attending family gatherings seem like they would be innocuous enough. After all, the thinking goes, if you only get out of the house for doctor visits and once every great while are able to attend a family gathering, how can that be misconstrued as being able to return to work? It can be, and it will be.

Social media data is gathered and used in conjunction with other investigative information to create a picture, and the picture from the disability insurance company’s view is far different than yours. They have a case to make – the last thing you want to do is to provide them with evidence to be used against you.

If you have an extensive social media presence and are concerned about how it may impact a claim, give our office a call at 877- LTD-CLAIM (877-583-2524) to learn how we can help.



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