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In a case mentioned previously on this Blog, a Long Term Disability Insurer (MetLife) reversed its claims denial decision upon remand from Federal Court.

The client last worked in 2009 and can expect more than five years of past due benefits. This is an unusual circumstance for a case with a long and twisting procedural history.

The client originally came to SMDA while represented by another law firm while she was facing a motion to dismiss her case based on the statute of limitations. SMDA agreed to take her case and won the motion to dismiss-convincing the Court that the language of MetLife’s LTD insurance policy was ambiguous in explaining when she had to file suit to preserve her claim.

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While this Blog is usually devoted to issues involving LTD claims and cases, I felt I needed to go off topic for a minute.

The Michigan Supreme Court issued a decision this past week in a case where a disabled young man drowned in a public swimming pool. Investigation revealed that the lifeguard on duty was distracted, not in his designated position, and ignored several calls for help from another student who saw the disabled young man under water.

In an opinion written by (Justice) Brian Zahra the Court dismissed the claim finding that the lifeguard’s failure to act was not the proximate cause of the young man’s death even though timely action might have prevented his death. Instead, and I am not making this up, the Court determined the proximate cause of death was “that which caused him to remain submerged in the deep end of the pool without resurfacing.”

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In Rochow v. Life Ins. Co. of N. Am., 2015 U.S. App. LEXIS 3532 (6th Cir. 2015), the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals (the Court) en banc overturned a previous decision of a 3 judge panel that had allowed plaintiff’s claim for the disgorgement of profits earned by the disability insurer.

Background: Under the ERISA statute and regulations the only traditional remedy for a claimant was the recovery of the monthly LTD benefits that were wrongfully denied. This remedial scheme has one very large problem-there is no incentive for the LTD insurance company to pay the benefits. In other words, if the LTD insurance company denies a claim for benefits, it gets to keep and use the money during the time period it takes for the claimant to file his or her claim, administrative appeal and lawsuit. During that time the insurance company can invest this money and earn a significant return. At the same time, the claimant is deprived of the use of the money. So, at the end of the day, if a claimant wins their ERISA suit for LTD benefits, the LTD insurer only pays the past due monthly benefits and gets to keep the return on the investment. In Rochow’s case the Life Insurance Company of North America was eventually ordered to pay about $700,000 in disability benefits, but it got to keep almost 3 million dollars it had earned on the money while the claim and lawsuit was pending.
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The US District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan recently determined that LTD Insurer-MetLife wrongfully denied a claimant’s request for LTD benefits.

SMDA was retained by the claimant after her administrative remedies had been exhausted and suit had been filed. The client had been employed as an Audit Manager for Deloitte LLP when she developed a condition which caused orthostatic intolerance which resulted in unpredictable and intermittent dizziness and fainting spells. Her own doctors said that when these episodes occurred she must be able to lie down during the day.

MetLife obtained a paid paper review by an outside physician who determined that the Insured “may need to sit or lie down as needed.” Relying on this recommendation, MetLife’s in-house vocational reviewer then concluded that the claimant was capable of performing the duties of her own occupation because her employer would allow her to “sit as needed.”

Applying a deferential standard of review, the Court determined that MetLife’s denial decision was arbitrary and capricious:
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SMDA recently convinced Long Term Disability Insurer Cigna to reverse its original claims denial decision by filing a comprehensive administrative appeal.

SMDA was retained by a very nice client who was having significant mental health problems that were significantly aggravated by stress. The client retained our firm after Cigna rejected her claim for LTD benefits but prior to the expiration of the 180 day period she had to complete her administrative appeal. The ability to appeal the claims denial decision within 180 days is required by the ERISA statute and regulations.

Upon consideration of the administrative appeal Cigna overturned the claims denial decision and retroactively reinstated the clients LTD benefits. The client received a lump sum for the past due benefits and will continue to receive monthly benefit checks so long as she continues to meet the policy’s definition of disability during the 24 month pay period for mental health problems.

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SMDA recently convinced Long Term Disability Insurer, Lincoln Financial Group, to reverse its decision to deny Disability Benefit payments to a Physician.

Our client had developed a degenerative orthopedic condition that resulted in several joint replacement surgeries. Lincoln Financial voluntarily paid Total Disability benefits while the client was recovering from each of the surgeries.

However, when the doctor returned to work he was only able to resume a part time schedule. Lincoln Financial rejected the physicians claim for additional benefits asserting that he was no longer Totally Disabled. However, upon examination of the Plan document it became apparent that the policy provided for Partial Disability benefits. SMDA convinced Lincoln to reverse its claims denial decision by filing a comprehensive administrative appeal analyzing the Plan language as well as the clients ongoing restrictions and limitations.

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SMDA recently convinced an LTD insurer to overturn its claims denial decision by filing a comprehensive administrative appeal on behalf of our client. SMDA’s client had filed a claim for disability benefits as a result of serious depression and anxiety. The LTD insurance company originally denied the claim contending that since the claimant was still able to care for her profoundly disabled teenager she was not entitled to disability benefits.

SMDA successfully pointed out the fallacy of this argument convincing the insurer to retroactively reinstate the disability benefit claim and put the client back on claim.

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The Michigan Department of Insurance and Financial Services released its list of complaint ratios for 2013 recently. Leading the pack by a wide margin, with 101 complaints, State Farm Mutual Auto Insurance Company had more than twice the volume of complaints than its nearest competitor. Although, to be fair, if you added up all of the complaints against Allstate and related entities it is pretty close. By my count there were (14+27+7+46=94) complaints against Allstate and Esurance.

These results come as no surprise as our firm frequently sees claims denied by each of these companies.

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Lincoln National Life recently overturned its decision to deny an SMDA client’s claim after we filed an administrative appeal of Lincoln’s claim’s denial decision.

Our client had worked for FoMoCo for more than a decade when the facility where she worked was sold as part of a corporate restructuring. She had ongoing health issues which had previously resulted in a leave of absence and a claim for LTD benefits which had been approved and paid by the prior LTD carrier.

After the sale occurred she returned to work for a period of time. During this time the new employer changed disability insurance carriers to Lincoln National Life. When the client experienced a recurrence of her prior problem she filed a claim for benefits with Lincoln National.

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SMDA prepared a comprehensive administrative appeal on behalf of a gentleman who had been forced to stop working as a press operator as a result of ongoing orthopedic problems with his neck. He had underwent cervical discectomy surgery as a result of his serious neck pain and radiculopathy. The surgery was only partially successful leaving him with residual pain and problems.

Despite his ongoing problems he attempted to return to work. He was only able to work for a brief period of time before his activity significantly aggravated his pain. Cigna originally denied his claim for benefits after a paper review which determined that he could perform the duties of his medium demand occupation.

SMDA filed an administrative appeal of this denial decision explaining in detail the various flaws in the conclusions of the paper reviewer. Cigna agreed and overturned the claims denial decision. The clients LTD benefits will be retroactively reinstated and he will be placed on claim.