Insurance Company Tactics:
Online Surveillance

In determining whether they think an insured can go back to work, insurance companies will often employ a variety of investigative methods. One such tactic can be to gather online surveillance in an attempt to find activities that they believe are inconsistent with the disability claim.

The case of McIntyre v. Reliance[1] is an example of this. McIntyre was a nurse for Mayo clinic when she became disabled due to Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (CMT). CMT is a genetic, degenerative neurological disease that damages the peripheral nerves. Reliance initially approved McIntyre’s claim and paid out during the “own occupation” period of her claim, but in the “any occupation” period, they terminated benefits, claiming that she was able to work in a sedentary capacity.

As part of their investigation, Reliance hired an investigative group who conducted research on McIntyre’s online activities. Their reports focused on McIntyre’s dog breeding and training, which was described on a website and her Facebook page. After these reports, Reliance had the investigative group perform in-person surveillance, which documented McIntyre for three days, showing that she taught an obedience class for several hours, drove to a mall and garden center, and then spent time in her garden for about ten minutes. The investigator noted that McIntyre had been out of her house for five hours and fifteen minutes on the day in question. The investigator noted that while McIntyre walked with a slight limp, she did not seem to struggle with other physical tasks such as opening the rear door of her car, pulling weeds, arranging flowers, or making her purchases.

After having multiple file reviews, a vocational analysis, and an IME conducted, Reliance upheld its termination of benefits, even though McIntyre’s physician had issued a statement saying that McIntyre was unable to work at all. The Court acknowledged McIntyre’s symptoms, but agreed with Reliance’s decision, and pointed to the surveillance as part of the rationale that McIntyre could work in a sedentary condition: “[a]lthough McIntyre was not out of her house for a full eight hours, her activities that day required more movement than a sedentary office job does.”

This case demonstrates how insurance companies will engage in surveillance, including an extensive dive into your online history, to undercut a claim. If you have filed a claim and have concerns about how your insurance company is handling it, please feel free to contact our attorneys directly to set up a consult.

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 using surveillance, an experienced disability insurance attorney can help you assess your particular situation and determine whether the insurer’s action is appropriate.

[1] McIntyre v. Reliance Standard Life Ins. Co., No. 21-3063, 2023 WL 4673615 (8th Cir. July 21, 2023)


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