Court conducts own review of video evidence

In an unusual appellate decision, a Massachusetts court evaluated how much weight can be given to inconclusive and sporadic surveillance video of a claimant. In Maher v Massachusetts General Hospital Long Term Disability Plan, the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals weighed the video evidence in comparison to the number of days of surveillance to find for a disability claimant.

Video evidence showed the claimant employee driving, walking, jogging, lifting a child, and even flying a kite. Unusual for an appellate decision, the judges delved into the fact investigation, noting: “On 10 of the 19 days of surveillance, plaintiff Maher engaged in no activity.” The court found that “In over 90 minutes of surveillance, the most damning evidence the MGH Plan can identify is 15 minutes during which Maher carried a bucket or pot and 30 minutes during which Maher played with her 3 year old son in the park.”

The plan administrator viewed the evidence as showing what doctors had previously concluded: the claimant was not totally disabled. But the court was not convinced: “ Thus most of the surveillance, far from contradicting Maher's disability, seems to confirm her lifestyle as generally housebound with occasional, limited activity.”

Interestingly, the court did not reinstate disability benefits, but instead returned the case to the administrator for further evaluation. Defendant’s attorney noted that three different review boards had found the video evidence did not show the employee met the definition of disability.