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Disability Claimants Beware: Exaggerating the Times of Your Life on Social Media Can be Very Costly

Disability Claimants Beware: Exaggerating the Times of Your Life on Social Media Can be Very Costly

When I first began practicing law few of my clients ever accessed the then little known world of the internet. But those days are long gone. Over the last couple of decades, we have become a social media obsessed society, with the emphasis on social.

There are cottage industries dedicated to social media and how to use it to connect with everyone from casual acquaintances, friends, family, and especially to develop business.

When I first presented papers and spoke at seminars on disability entitlements and disability insurance, I shared with participants what I had observed in my many years of law practice: to survive the life altering consequences of a disabling illness, my clients often engage in denial, especially about their illnesses and the toll it takes on their lives.

As an example, when a client walks down the street and sees a neighbor who says, “Hi, how are you doing?” My clients, like many of us, respond, “Fine, how are you?”

Is that client lying since they are not in fact feeling fine? The answer is obvious. These clients know if they say, “If you really want to know, I feel awful, I don’t sleep nights, I am sick as a dog most days…” the next time they see that neighbor, they will look the other way, or pretend they didn’t see my client since the answer was unpleasant. So most of my clients simply engage in a social white lie and say they are fine.

But for many that is not where the denial ends. Because we live in a capitalist society where we are judged based on the capital we produce, and since anyone filing for disability feels they are perceived as lazy and a fraud if they claim disability benefits, many disabled individuals conceal their disability from the outside world, and to a large degree deny to themselves their level of functional impairment.

I have had clients with severe disabilities such as advanced cancer post photos on Facebook, Instagram etc.. where they are seen kite flying with children, sailing with friends, fishing, camping, hiking, you name it. But the photos don’t reveal the consequences of those activities such as the physical crash that follows or other virulent reactions, or cognitive crashes. The old saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words” is not always true. Many pictures do not in fact document reality.

I once had a client with profound mental illness who found himself on the receiving end of a fraud investigation initiated by the insurance company. The complaint was founded on a photo that appeared on his Facebook account which showed him and his son lifting a heavy object with a caption which described a day filled with physical activity. His disability was not based on a physical disorder, but rather repeat suicide attempts as a result of his severe bipolar disorder. His post was his way of projecting a happy life that on most days escaped him. And, as the insurance company knew, his manic days were often filled with activity which were followed by crippling depression and often suicide attempts. We explained to the State that the only fraud going on involved the insurance company that misrepresented the nature of his disability to them, and after reviewing the medical evidence, they apologized and closed the file. But the toll on my client was enormous and he took his life shortly after.

There are too many of these sorts of examples to share here. Suffice it to say, that it costs very little for the insurance industry to conduct this sort of social media surveillance. And while it may feel good for a disability claimant to project a life full of fun and activities when the opposite is true, the cost of doing so is too great.

The lesson for the disability claimant: Get off social media, and rest.




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