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Posts on LinkedIn & IMDb Sink Stunt Woman’s Disability Pension Claim

Social Media Posts Are Quicksand for Disability Insurance Claims

picture of keyboard with social network keysI have said it before many times, what you post online is being trolled by disability adjusters from the moment you file a disability insurance claim.  If you do not think that Long Term Disability insurance companies are using your social media posts for free surveillance on you, you are kidding yourself.  (Related video blog: How Social Media Can Destroy Your Disability Insurance Claim).  You may think you are on solid ground, but it is amazing what insurance investigators will find online that they think proves you are not disabled….or worse, that they think proves you are a liar.  Before you know it, your claim is sunk all because of what you thought were some innocent pictures or posts on Facebook Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.

This week, a federal judge in California upheld the denial of disability benefits under the Screen Actors Guild Pension Plan, in large part because of social media posts.

Stunt Woman Loses Lawsuit for Disability Benefits Under Screen Actors Guild Pension Plan

Leslie Hoffman was a stunt woman in Hollywood, but became disabled and started collecting a pension disability payment from the Screen Actors Guild Pension Plan.  After receiving benefits for 10 years, she asked the pension fund to convert her benefit to a more lucrative “occupational disability” benefit under the plan, claiming her disability began in the course of her employment.  That started an investigation by the plan to see if she was entitled to the better benefit.

Unfortunately for Hoffman, the plan’s administrator did not have to dig far to find evidence that it claimed showed she was not disabled at all.  The court decision in her case, Hoffman v. Screen Actors-Producers Guild Pension Plan, explained that Hoffman claimed she had not been working, but the judge found the facts showed that

Plaintiff’s online profiles on LinkedIn.com, IMDb.com, and her personal website “The Official Leslie Hoffman Site” (www.stuntrek.com/leslie.html) listed stunt and acting credits ranging from 2004 through 2010, and advertised Plaintiff’s services as a stunt coordinator. For instance, Plaintiff’s website as it appeared on July 12, 2014 contained an announcement promoting Plaintiff’s attendance at the London Film and Comic Convention in 2010 stating “LESLIE IS NOW COORDINATING STUNTS FOR STARSHIP FARRAGUT FAN SERIES.”

Admittedly, the administrator also had medical evidence to rebut Hoffman’s claim of disability, but it is clear that neither the administrator nor the judge found her credible after tracking her online.

Worse still, it appears that Ms. Hoffman was either working or trying to make it look like she was still working to avoid losing her career entirely.  If she was working, then she may have been improperly receiving pension disability benefits.  If she was not working and simply doing what the marketing profession calls “puffery,” then she was trying to have her cake and eat it too….never a good thing.

Takeaway:

Social media is where everyone tries to make themselves look good, particularly professional sites like LinkedIn.  You may hope to return to work some day.  You may want to try to preserve that professional reputation you worked so hard to get over the years.  However, anything you do online to make yourself appear to be working or capable of working will hurt your disability case.  I always recommend that anyone who is applying for LTD benefits minimize their social media presence, and lock down their privacy settings from the day they file their claim.

If you are disabled and trying to receive or receiving LTD benefits, follow my expanded list of 10 Tips below:

10 Tips for Using Social Media if You Have a Disability Claim:

  1. Don’t.  Do NOT use social media at all.  Seriously.
  2. See number 1.  Really, it is that much of a problem.
  3. If you insist on using social media, make sure you know how to use the maximum privacy setting, and set your privacy settings to MAX.  But know this:  max privacy does not make you invisible.
  4. Make sure you hide your friends.
  5. Do not let your friends tag you.
  6. Do NOT post on anyone else’s “wall.”
  7. Avoid posting comments on web blogs or other people’s social media.
  8. If you insist on posting pictures of yourself online, assume that an investigator is looking at them.  Remember that pictures of you online engaging in an activity for 1 minute look like you did it for hours – beware of how you are making yourself look and the wrong impression you may be leaving!
  9. Do NOT post on a professional page like LinkedIn. Ever.
  10. Go back and read Rule #1 above.

Professional pages like LinkedIn are even worse that others, because they are often not maintained or updated for months or years.  If you are disabled, go back and carefully and accurately update your online presence.

Finally, here is some common sense to go along with these 10 Tips:  If you are working, do not try to collect disability benefits like Ms. Hoffman did without telling the plan you are working.  In most states, that is insurance fraud, and you just make it worse for honest people that are truly disabled and trying to collect disability benefits.

CASE: Leslie Hoffman v. Screen Actors Guild-Producers Pension Plan, an ERISA Plan, Case No.: 2:16-cv-01530-R-AJW, 2016 WL 6537531 (C.D. Cal. November 2, 2016).

If you have a claim for ERISA Long Term Disability or Pension Disability benefits, contact us online for a free consultation with one of our experienced ERISA Disability Attorneys or call us toll free at (866) 282-5260.  We handle ERISA LTD cases nationwide.

 

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