The Insurer Who Spied on Me: Disabled Man Sues Claiming The Hartford Unfairly Cut Off Benefits

"GMA" story on insurance company surveillance prompts more allegations of abuse.

ByABC News via logo
November 11, 2009, 12:04 PM

April 7, 2010— -- 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.