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Social Media and Personal Injury Cases: LTD Benefits

We recently blogged about social media and personal injury cases. Insurance companies are using social media as a means of surveillance to try to find out more about a claimant’s character, and their credibility.

At discoveries, defence lawyers are asking for plaintiffs to produce their Facebook photos, or preserve their accounts. The requests for access to plaintiffs’ and claimants’ social media sites are not going to disappear as more and more people are joining these sites.

But how much do these social media sites tell about a person??

Consider a Quebec woman’s fight with her long-term disability insurer made headlines late in 2009. The headlines were essentially “Depressed woman loses benefits over Facebook photos”.

Nathalie Blanchard, an employee of IBM, went on sick leave for major depression and was being paid long-term disability benefits through Manulife Financial for a year and a half. She attended therapy, took prescription medications, and then her doctor suggested that she take a trip and try to enjoy herself, so she booked a trip, she notified her insurance company and she took pictures of her trip.

She posted those trip pictures on Facebook. It turns out Manulife had their eye on her Facebook account and noticed her photos and determined she did not appear depressed in her photos.

When her benefits cheques stopped coming, she called Manulife and asked why. Manulife described her Facebook pictures to her and told her that is evidence she is no longer depressed. She doesn’t understand how Manulife accessed her photos when her profile is private.

She retained a lawyer to sue Manulife and have her benefits restored, her lawyer felt Manulife’s actions were inappropriate.

It is important to consider the fact that depression and mental illness aren’t visible illnesses like physical injuries. A picture doesn’t necessarily capture a person’s state of mind.

Manulife felt that Blanchard was well enough to work based on her pictures.

Manulife would not comment specifically on Blanchard’s case but said they would not deny or terminate a valid claim based solely on information found on sites such as Facebook. A spokesperson for the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association said “We can’t ignore it, wherever the source of the information is..”

The case is before the courts now.