Insurance companies say conducting video surveillance on claimants is often necessary to prevent insurance fraud, but some disabled people say their insurance company has gone too far. They are claiming the Hartford wrongfully terminated their disability benefits on the basis of innocuous surveillance video- which their doctors say isn't convincing evidence they can return to work.
We heard from these claimants after "Good Morning America" aired a story about Jack "Rocky" Whitten, who says his disability insurance benefits were unfairly cut off after a private investigator hired by The Hartford filmed him getting into a van, reading a magazine and dipping a taco chip into salsa.
Whitten, who has a broken neck, had been receiving disability benefits for years, but said shortly after the surveillance, his insurer, The Harford terminated his benefits and used that surveillance tape of him in part as evidence that he could return to work.
"I mean, they found the least little thing that makes no sense, I mean a chip weighs nothing," Whitten's wife, Leigh, said.
Whitten's benefits were ultimately reinstated, but after the "GMA" report aired we heard from dozens of people who said that what happened to Whitten also happened to them.
Eric Neubarth suffered a traumatic brain injury and says his benefits were cut off in part because he was taped doing his laundry and going to a deli for lunch.
Paul Hamel, who has degenerative disc disease, says his benefits were canceled in part because of videotape of him lifting his 2-year-old granddaughter.
And Evan Werner, who severely injured his back in a car accident, says The Hartford terminated his benefits in part because an investigator hired by The Hartford videotaped him going to a doctor's appointment and walking his dog. Their doctors said they were disabled, but The Hartford said all these people could perform sedentary work.
Susan Pisano, a spokeswoman for America's Health Insurance Plans, an insurance industry lobby group, says the purpose of conducting surveillance isn't to terminate claims, but to gather information.
"My understanding is that the video is never used as a stand-alone tool for decision making. And what I can say is that claims can be appealed," Pisano said.
Those appeals are handled by the insurance company, not an outside arbitrator, but Pisano said "ultimately it can go to court."
And that's exactly what Evan Werner and others are doing: they're suing, claiming The Hartford unfairly terminated their benefits.
Werner says after his car accident 19 years ago, doctors told the hospital technician that he couldn't return to work. But then a few years ago, a private investigator hired by The Hartford began staking him out.
After four unsuccessful attempts to videotape Werner outside his home, the investigator staked out his doctors office and taped him going to his appointment, leaving an Office Depot store and walking his Shih Tzu.
"I couldn't understand why they put this surveillance on me," Werner said. "You know, I'm not a criminal. I didn't do anything wrong."
Nine doctors said Werner was disabled and couldn't work, but a few months after they conducted surveillance, Werner received a letter from The Hartford stating his disability benefits were terminated because the surveillance tape -- along with other evidence -- showed he was "capable of performing full-time sedentary work."