Insurance Company Tactics: Overemphasizing Daily Activities
In prior posts, we’ve discussed how insurers conduct surveillance to determine if you can go back to work. Insurers also gather information about your daily activities through field interviews, claim forms and looking through your medical records for statements about your activity levels.
Many dentists and physicians with “own occupation” policies wonder why they are being asked these questions. In their minds, their hobbies and activities are completely unrelated to whether they can return to practice. However, to an insurer, gathering this information is often the first step towards challenging (and potentially denying) a claim. Insurers like to use reports or surveillance footage of daily activities to argue that a claimant’s condition has improved—particularly when a claim involves subjective symptoms, such as pain or numbness, that may be difficult to objectively verify.
The recent case of Dewsnup v. Unum illustrates how insurers attempt to use information about claimants’ daily activities against them. Dewsnup was trial attorney who underwent quadruple bypass surgery after suffering a heart attack. Although the surgery was successful as far as his heart was concerned, he developed a constant burning pain across his chest at the incision site.
When he was not able to return to work after the surgery due to pain and fatigue, Dewsnup filed a total disability claim with Unum. Unum initially approved Dewsnup’s claim, but when Dewsnup eventually returned to the office part-time, Unum conducted a renewed, in-depth investigation of his claim and ordered a review of his medical records. When Unum contacted him, Dewsnup explained that his time in the office was limited, that he was only there to interact with clients, and that he was in no condition to go back to the rigors of practicing as a trial attorney (such as staying up all night, dealing with other attorneys, etc.).
Although Dewsnup had an own-occupation policy, Unum terminated Dewsnup’s benefits. When Dewsnup sued Unum, Unum argued that he could return full-time to the demanding and stressful work of a trial attorney, in part because he’d told Unum in phone interviews and other forms that he was able to wear his seatbelt when in a car, help his wife with chores, walk on a treadmill most days of the week, and had carved a wooden mantle.
Fortunately, the court was familiar with the duties of a trial attorney and held Unum in check. The court reversed the claim denial, observing that “Mr. Dewsnup never claimed that his pain was completely disabling in every facet of his life. . . . It is probable that his pain would prevent him completing the mentally-taxing work of trial attorney, but not prevent him from accomplishing relatively simple and low-stress daily tasks.”
Every claim is unique and the discussion above is only a limited summary of the court’s ruling in this case. If you feel that your insurer is improperly targeting your claim for denial, an experienced disability insurance attorney can help you assess your particular situation and determine whether the insurer’s action is appropriate.
 Dewsnup v. Unum Life Ins., 2018 WL 6478886 (D. Utah)