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Beware of social media when applying for disability insurance benefits

A recent article published by Bloomberg Law offers a stark warning to disability insurance claimants who use social media.  The article by Jacklyn Wille entitled "Facebook Has a New Friend: Disability Insurers" (https://www.bna.com/facebook-new-friend-n73014475033/) discusses insurers' use of social media to investigate disability insurance claimants.  And it is becoming more common that social media posts are cited as the basis for denying disability insurance payments. 

As social media usage has grown, disability insurers have increased their reliance on claimants' postings to furnish grounds for challenging disability claims.  Facebook or Instagram postings of photographs of vacations can be fodder for suspicious insurers.  Linked In posts may also create a false impression that someone is continuing to work while claiming to be disabled.

The implications are disturbing.  Just because someone is disabled does not mean that they are obligated to become hermits and retreat from contact with their friends and family. Nor does being disabled mean that attendance at family occasions such as weddings and graduations is disallowed.

The main point is that anyone who is claiming to be disabled should be thoughtful about what they post.  Photographs from old vacations that were taken before the onset of disability should be date stamped so that the disability insurer does not assume the vacation is recent.  Any other posts that might create a misleading impression of greater activity than what is actually occurring should also be carefully monitored.  Claimants should make an effort to avoid being photographed holding a drink or standing on a dance floor, even if the drink is Coca Cola or no dancing is actually occurring. 

The use of Linked In can be even trickier, especially where there is an expectation of returning to work.  No employee wishes to have a gap on their resume and then have to explain to a prospective employer why there was no employment during a given period of time.  However, listing a non-existent job, or even worse, suggesting availability to perform work, can undermine a disability claim.

The most important consideration in using social media while seeking disability benefits is to always be truthful.  A court once wrote about a disability claimant who suffered from fibromyalgia that he faced the "unfortunate choice in life is between succumbing to his pain and fatigue and becoming inert, on the one hand, and on the other hand pushing himself to engage in a certain amount of painful and fatiguing activity. If he does the latter, it does not prove that he is not disabled."  (Hawkins v. First Union, 326 F.3d 914 (7th Cir. 2003)).  With those principles in mind, disability claimants should keep using social media, but use it safely and with care.

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