One insurance company tactic that regularly scares and intimidates many people is the field interview. These interviews can take many different styles, but they’re intended to look for and develop reasons to delay or deny your disability claim. Claimants often hopefully believe that allowing the field representative or investigator to come into their home and listen to how the illness or medical condition is affecting their daily lives will make the insurance company more sympathetic or understanding of their issues and more likely to pay the disability benefits. Unfortunately, these interviews seldom help claimants who may be naive, unprepared, or unfamiliar with basic interview techniques. And even then, interview reports can be skewed or spun to create “evidence” that supports a desired outcome and will be used as one of the reasons to deny a disability claim.
Our firm has seen many cases in which claimants have been burned by unfavorable interview reports, but fortunately there are ways that you can defend yourself and protect the disability benefits you deserve. Our experts have compiled a list of 6 tips we recommend to our clients to help prepare them for a field interview. Following these tips can help you understand the process and ensure that you’re prepared for some of the questions and tactics commonly used in disability claim interviews.
- Only answer the questions asked. Listen carefully – and take your time! Investigators will ask questions that are designed to be complex and require long, open-ended answers. For example, they might ask “what do you do during the days?” Don’t fall into this trap. Break the question down into sections or pieces. Professional investigators are trained and experienced to phrase questions and record answers that will allow them to take bits and pieces of your answers to create the desired narrative. It’s very important to give truthful, complete answers but don’t offer any information they don’t specifically request. Try to remain calm and composed during extended, even awkward, silences. Remember, the interviewer doesn’t actually care about your disability, they’re simply doing their job to investigate you and your claim for the insurance company. In response to our example question, it’s impossible to answer – there’s practically no chance that you’d be able to list every single thing you do during every single day. So, you could answer by citing an example of something you did before your disability that you can’t do now, or you could go through your medication and treatment regimen that you follow each day. Then most importantly, stop. Be quiet and wait for the next question.
- Answer questions specifically and don’t speak in overgeneralities. Our blog has mentioned this tip in earlier articles regarding IME’s and claim forms, but it’s an important point to reiterate here as well. For example, if you suffer from chronic back pain that prevents you from working at a desk for extended periods of time, don’t just say you are unable to sit. Be more specific. Go into the types of back pain, including the numeric ranges of pain that may come and go, that have been documented in your medical records that prevent you from not just sitting but also from working on a computer or being able to get up and down or adjust your position constantly. For example, an answer may be “Sometimes I can sit at a desk and type on a computer for 20 minutes before I have to gently stand up and move around, but on other days the pain is so severe, a 9 out of 10, that I can’t sit at all without excruciating, soul crushing pain.” Providing answers and details like these help reduce the wiggle room an investigator has to craft their report to fit the narrative they’re trying to create.
- Hold the interview in a public location rather than your house. There’s nothing wrong with meeting an investigator in a convenient coffee shop or restaurant. If you let the investigator walk into your house, they will be constantly scanning for anything that can be construed against you or your claim. If you used to ski but your condition no longer allows you to, having ski gear visible in the garage will be brought up in the report and used to doubt your credibility – even if you haven’t picked them up in years. If the grass is cut and the bushes trimmed or even if the house is clean and tidy, this can be cited as evidence of activities inconsistent with your claimed restrictions and limitations. There’s nothing good that can come from giving an investigator more opportunities to come up with reasons to question and delay your claim.
- Don’t appear too comfortable. You don’t want to appear too comfortable or relaxed during the interview. While you may want to fight through any pain and discomfort just to get the interview over with, investigators are trained to watch your body language and compare that with the restrictions and limitations as well as the symptoms of your medical conditions. It’s critical to remember that investigators aren’t just listening to your words. They’re studying you, watching your actions and body movements as well as how you answer their questions. If you stay seated for longer than you stated you’re able to, that will be used to impeach your restrictions and limitations, even if you’re taking measures to make it easier for you that wouldn’t be possible at work, such as sitting in a recliner with your feet up. It’s important to make your reported restrictions and limitations pretty obvious so that the investigator can’t overlook or ignore them.
- Have a friend or family member present at the interview. There’s nothing wrong with having a second set of eyes and ears be with you at the interview. Having someone you trust with you during an interview is almost always helpful. While they cannot (and should not) interject themselves into the interview, a family member or friend can help provide emotional support, help make sure the interview from becoming a grueling process, as well as verify what was asked, said, and done during the interview process. They should keep detailed notes during the interview. Depending on the laws of your state, you may be able to record the interview. However, please understand that most investigators won’t agree to have their interviews recorded.
- Be wary of surveillance before and after your interview. Another common tactic of insurance companies is to combine surveillance on days before and/or after your interview to try and record inconsistencies with your answers during the interview. Surveillance is an expensive claim investigative tool that can be used at anytime, but it’s more common around interviews. You should have notes to make sure you clearly state your limitations and restrictions to the investigator. Don’t try to overstate or oversell your disability to make your case sound better – that’s a sure way to endanger your entire claim. Investigators are well trained by insurance companies to notice any facts or seize any inconsistencies that don’t fit into the claim profile. Exaggerating your disability is unnecessary and harmful and can provide the insurance company with a reason to deny your claim. Make sure that none of your activities can be taken out of context. Even attempting to perform tasks that go against your doctor’s orders or are inconsistent with your condition, no matter how minor, can provide grounds to delay or deny your benefits. We’ve written several other articles on protecting yourself against surveillance here and here.
If you’re not prepared, interviews can be some of the most damaging pieces of evidence against your disability claim. Whenever interviews do occur in the claims process, investigators are trained to look for any inconsistencies or weaknesses in the claim. Although insurance companies often have the upper hand with their trained and experienced employees, you can and should refuse to accept any overly aggressive tactics. If you become uncomfortable or feel threatened, stop and reschedule the interview. Following these tips can help lead to an easier claims process and prevent unnecessary delays in releasing your disability benefits.
If you have more concerns about an interview or are worried about one that has already been completed, we can help you defend your disability claim. Please fill out a free consultation request on the right-hand side of this page or call us toll-free at (855) 828-4100 to speak with one of our disability claim consultants and see how we can help you.