Articles Posted in LongTerm Disability (LTD) Insurance

Okay, that headline is a simplification, and maybe even an overstatement, but that’s the attitude of insurance companies, and even courts, when looking at evidence related to life, health and disability claims.

At Kantor & Kantor, one of the most common complaints we hear from prospective clients goes something like this: “When I called the insurance company, they told me to do xxxxxx. So I did xxxxxx. But then they sent me a letter denying my claim/cancelling my coverage because I didn’t do yyyyyy, as the policy required.”

Unfortunately, no matter how much we want to believe the prospective client, our answer is almost always the same: you have to understand, and act as though someone will one day soon say to you,  “if you can’t prove it, it never happened.”

If you are receiving STD or LTD claims and your claim gets denied, you will usually have 180 days from the date you receive the denial letter in which to submit an appeal that includes all of your supporting documentation.  If you miss that deadline, you will likely lose your right to claim those benefits permanently. 

 Many people wait too long to seek help with their appeal from an attorney. Some probably figure they can handle it on their own, some are in denial, and still others are just slow movers. No matter the reason for waiting to get help, the longer you wait, the harder it is for an attorney to give you advice, or even to agree to take your case.  Sometimes, it may turn out you don’t need a lawyer. You may learn during an initial consultation that with just a few additional steps you can handle the appeal on your own.  Or, you may learn that the matter is far more complicated than you expected, and legal help is well advised.  The point is, don’t wait.  Among the many things necessary to adequately support an appeal are medical records and letters from treating physicians. Doctors are extremely busy and so are their offices. It can take months to obtain copies of records and to reach your doctor to enlist his or her help in writing a response to the insurer’s medical reviews.  Often, there are also other types of evidence needed to help support an appeal: New imaging diagnostics, updated physician vists and exam notes, Functional Capacity Evaluations, Vocational Assessments, Neuropsychological Testing. These records and tests take time, as do the reports that follow.

 The longer you wait to enlist the help of an experienced ERISA attorney, the less time he or she will have to guide the process and help you to obtain this necessary documentation. Six months pass by very quickly, do not hesitate to seek counsel as soon as your benefits are denied.  You’ll be glad you did.

When you think of what lawyers do for a living, the first thing you probably think of is arguing over a case in front of a judge.

You may be surprised to learn, then, that in the federal courts this staple of practicing law seems to be on the way out. The federal district courts – the trial courts of the federal system – are increasingly holding fewer and fewer oral arguments. Some district courts even have a standing default rule that they won’t hear oral argument on a motion unless the presiding judge explicitly asks for it.

This trend is even more accentuated in the federal circuit courts – the appellate courts of the federal system. While the Supreme Court of the United States holds oral argument in almost all of its cases, the circuit courts of appeal do not.

Mental health issues are definitely more widely spoken about in todays society. But lip service doesn’t necessarily help with the overwhelming challenges a person has to face in living with a mental illness.

Mental illness is more common than any of us would like. According to the National Institute of Mental Health there were an estimated 43.4 million adults aged 18 or older in the United States living with a mental illness in 2015. This number represented 17.9% of all U.S. adults. (See https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/prevalence/any-mental-illness-ami-among-us-adults.shtml).

The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports the following statistics regarding mental illness rates in the United States:

As you know, churches occupy a special place in the law. For example, the First Amendment bars the government from prohibiting the free exercise of religion, and churches, indeed almost all religioous institutions, get special tax treatment from the IRS.

However, you may not know that this distinction can also affect your employee benefits. Almost all employee benefits are governed by a federal law called ERISA (the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974). This law provides various protections, including imposing a fiduciary duty on your employer to act in your best interests in administering your benefits.

However, if you are a beneficiary of an employee benefit plan established by a church (or other religious organization), your benefits are not governed by ERISA, because ERISA has an exemption for “church plans.” (There is also an exemption for government plans.) As a result, you may lose protections under ERISA if you are a church employee.

The short answer is “Yes;” especially if they are carefully drafted to adress disability issues. To be effective, a personal statement should be directed to an insured’s inability to perform the material duties of his/her occupation, or any occupation that one may be suited for by education, training and experience. The more detail, the better.

For many years, insurers routinely disregarded claimants’ personal statement describing their illness or occupational difficulties because the personal statement was not “medical evidence.” Or, a statement may have been disregarded because it described “subjective” symptoms, which were not “verified” by MRI’s, x-rays or diagnostic studies. In the last few years, the Ninth Circuit has been critical of insurers who have insisted on “objective evidence” to prove disabilities caused by pain and fatigue. See, Salomaa v. Honda LTD Plan, 642 F.3d 666 (9th Cir., 2011) (“Many medical conditions depend for their diagnosis on patient reports of pain or other symptoms, and some cannot be objectively established until autopsy. In neither case can a disability insurer condition coverage on proof by objective indicators such as blood tests where the condition is recognized yet no such proof is possible.”)

Recently we have seen courts accept personal statements of claimants, friends and co-workers as strong evidence of disability. See Demer v IBM Corporation LTD Plan, 835 F.3d 893 (9th Cir., 2016) (Statement by a friend attesting to side effects from medication) and Jahn –Derian v. Metropolitan Life Ins. Co., 2016 WL 1355625 (C.D. Cal., 2016) (Statement from co-worker attesting to the plaintiff’s failed attempts to work with her condition was persuasive evidence).

Many of our clients suffer from chronic pain. For some, chronic pain is a symptom of an underlying condition, and for others it is the main condition.  In in either case, chronic pain can be and often is disabling. Because so many of our clients are affected by chronic pain, we want to spotlight and make people aware of an organization that provides information, support and education for those who suffer from chronic pain.

The American Chronic Pain Association’s mission is:

  • to facilitate peer support and education for individuals with chronic pain and their families so that these individuals may live more fully in spite of their pain; and

With increasing frequency, insurance companies like Cigna, Unum, MetLife and Prudential are denying long-term disability (“LTD”) claims due to discrepancies between what the claimant/treating physician is saying on the claim forms and what is stated in the medical records. Essentially, the insurance company will say that the symptoms being described for purposes of the LTD claim are not reflected in the treatment records, so there’s no proof that these were ongoing problems.

This often occurs because of one main reason:  people always want to put their best foot forward.  When the doctor starts the appointment with “how are you feeling?” it’s in our human nature to simply reply “I’m doing okay.” Generally, no matter how we’re actually feeling, we don’t want to be viewed as a complainer so we may tend to downplay our symptoms, even to the extent of telling our doctor that everything is fine…when it’s clearly not.  Usually, when we respond this way, we mean that everything is okay considering the circumstances we find ourselves in, or sometimes just that “things could be worse.”  But, that’s not how it later appears in medical records.  Instead, what this often leads to is medical records showing “no active complaints” or “patient is improving” or “symptoms have subsided,” which gives the insurance company all the ammunition they need to deny the LTD claim.

So, be clear with your doctors about everything you’re experiencing. Don’t hide your symptoms.  Be detailed, and offer real-life examples. Don’t just say “I’m having memory problems.”  Give examples of having lost something, or forgot something you’ve never before forgotten.  Instead of “I’ve been very fatigued lately” explain what you were doing (like shopping, or picking up a child, or gardening, etc.) and how your fatigue interupted or prevented you from finishing the activity.  Also, check with your doctor or the doctor’s staff, to make sure everything you’re telling him/her is making it into your records.

There may come a time in your life when you will need to consult with a lawyer – whether it be good news or bad news. We routinely speak with individuals who have had life, health, and disability claims denied by their insurance companies. Understandably, this is a very difficult time for the individuals who call us. We understand that, and try to make the process simple…but we need your help.

As lawyers, we are well-versed in the practice of law, but we rely on the information from our clients to steer us in the right direction and guide each case. It takes TEAMWORK to get a successful outcome for our clients.

Here are a few tips for talking to your lawyer and sharing with them what they need to know.

On May 11, 2017, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued a decision in Orzechowski v. Boeing Co. Non-Union LTD Plan, et al., Case No. 14-55919 (9th Circ. May 11, 2017) upholding the application of the California law which invalidates “discretionary clauses” in Long Term Disability (LTD) plans and other life and disability contracts of insurance.

Prior to 2012, insurers in California (and many other states) were allowed to place “discretionary clauses” into their insurance policies. These clauses, while seemingly innocuous, actually made it significantly harder for insureds to challenge wrongful denials of insurance benefits in court. These clauses forced Federal Courts to review denials of insurance benefits under an “abuse of discretion” standard. In order to prevail under this standard, an insured not only had to show that they were entitled to the benefits under the contract, but they also had to show that the insurer’s decision was “arbitrary and capricious.”  The effect of this was that Court’s were routinely deferring to the “discretion” of the insurer thereby upholding their denial. This created is a much more difficult standard of proof for insureds to meet than in an ordinary civil lawsuit, where one need only prove their case by a “preponderance” of the evidence, and where Courts do not give any special weight to the evidence presented by the other side.  The result of the so-called discretionary clauses was that many insureds lost their lawsuits for wrongfully denied benefits even when, technically, they were entitled to benefits under the term of the contract.  Court’s would simply hold they could not find evidence the insurer “abused its discretion” or acted unreasonably enough so as to justify overturning the insurer’s denial of benefits.

In 2012, the California legislature passed California Insurance Code §10110.6, which provides that all discretionary clauses in California insurance contracts are null and void, if the insurance policy or plan “renewed” as of January 1, 2012. As a result, Courts will now look at the evidence anew, or “de novo” to make a determination of whether the insured is entitled to benefits, instead of simply deferring to the insurance company’s conclusions.  This is a much easier burden for insureds to meet than the older “abuse of discretion” standard.

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