Recently in Long term disability denial Category

Disability Claims Denied by Sedgwick CMS

August 16, 2014

Sedgwick Claims Management Services ("CMS") is a third party claims administrator hired by insurance companies and employee benefit plans to manage disability claims. If your employee benefit plan uses Sedgwick CMS as a claims administrator, then Sedgwick CMS is responsible for deciding whether your disability claim is approved or denied. As well as processing and adjudicating disability claims, Sedgwick holds itself out as providing the following services:

The company specializes in workers' compensation; disability, FMLA, and other employee absence; managed care; general, automobile, and professional liability; warranty and credit card claims services; fraud and investigation; structured settlements; and Medicare compliance solutions (website last visited August 16, 2014).

Sedgwick CMS is headquartered in Memphis, Tennessee and is one of the largest third party administrators in the nation. Many Indiana employers hire Sedgwick CMS to serve as their claims administrator for employee benefits. Employee benefit plans that currently use or previously used Sedgwick CMS include Eli Lilly & Company, AT&T, Comcast, Walgreens, Franciscan Alliance Inc., SPX Corporation, Ascension Health, Hewlett-Packard, PepsiCo Inc., International Paper, UnitedHealth Group, and many others. If employees of these companies apply for short term or long term disability benefits, Sedgwick CMS is responsible for processing the claims and deciding whether benefits should be paid. As a third party administrator, Sedgwick CMS does not actually pay the disability benefits. Rather, the employee benefit plan or insurance company pays disability benefits if Sedgwick CMS approves the claim. Often, the employee benefit plan has little involvement in the disability claims process, if any.

Like disability insurance companies, Sedgwick initially reviews a disability claim by obtaining medical records, requiring the claimant's treating physician to complete questionnaires, and having in-house staff (nurses, doctors, vocational analysts, claims analysts) review the claimant's file. If the claim is denied and the claimant appeals, then Sedgwick's review of the appeal will likely include the use of contracted record reviewing physicians. If the claim is approved, Sedgwick may call or write to the claimant frequently in efforts to obtain more information. Sedgwick may also require the claimant to undergo an "Independent Medical Examination" or "Functional Capacity Evaluation."

Continue reading "Disability Claims Denied by Sedgwick CMS" »

Proper Contents of a Denial Letter

August 7, 2014

The Employee Retirement and Income Security Act ("ERISA") mandates that insurance companies and claims administrators provide claimants with the specific reasons for the denial or termination of employee benefits and the reasons for the denial must be in writing. See Militello v. Cent. States, Se. and Sw. Areas Pension Fund, 360 F.3d 681, 688 (7th Cir. 2004), cert. denied, 543 U.S. 869 (2004). The Department of Labor has promulgated regulations under ERISA which require certain information to be contained in a denial or termination of benefits letter. Specifically, 29 C.F.R. §2560.503(g) states:

Manner and content of notification of benefit determination.

(1)....The notification shall set forth, in a manner of calculated to be understood by the claimant -

(I) Reference to the specific plan provisions on which the determination is based;

(II) A description of any additional material or information necessary for the claimant to perfect the claim and an explanation of why such material or information is necessary;

These requirements ensure that when a claimant appeals a denial to the plan administrator, he or she will be able to address the determinative issues and have a fair chance to present his case. Halpin v. W.W. Granger, 962 F.2d 685 (7th Cir. 1992). Describing the additional information needed, as required by this section, enables a claimant to gain a better understanding of the inadequacy of his claim and to gain a meaningful review by knowing with what to supplement the record. Wolfe v. J.C. Penney Co., 710 F.2d 388 (7th Cir. 1983).

Continue reading "Proper Contents of a Denial Letter" »

Cigna Disability Claims

July 16, 2014

Cigna, headquartered in Bloomfield, Connecticut, is a global health services organization and its insurance subsidiaries are major providers of medical, dental, disability, life and accident insurance and related products and services, the majority of which are offered through employers and other groups. CIGNA is one of the top health insurers in North America, with medical plans covering nearly 12 million people. Cigna operates in 30 countries, has approximately 40,000 employees and manages around $54 billion in assets.

CIGNA is the parent company of Life Insurance Company of North America. Life Insurance Company of North America ("LINA") offers group life, accident, and disability insurance to employers. LINA was formed in 1956 by Insurance Company of North America (INA), a CIGNA predecessor company. LINA provides group disability insurance to many employers across Indiana including Toyota, the University of Notre Dame, State Farm, Sony Electronics, Covance and many others. Employees of these companies are provided short and long term disability benefits if they become unable to work due to injury or illness. LINA is responsible for processing the claims and making monthly benefit payments if the claimant proves that they are disabled and unable to return to their own occupation.

During the claims process, LINA will have a Nurse Case Manager review the medical records to determine whether an individual meets the definition of Disabled under the terms of the policy. If necessary, the Nurse Case Manager will escalate the review to a Cigna Medical Director who is an employee of Cigna. The Medical Director will also review the medical records and reports to determine whether the restrictions and limitations listed by the claimant's treating physician are supported by the medical records. It is not uncommon for the Nurse Case Manager and Cigna Medical Director to disagree with the treating physician and to find that the claimant is able to return to work despite the medical evidence supporting the claim.

Continue reading "Cigna Disability Claims" »

Disability Due to Spinal Injuries and Disorders

July 15, 2014

Spinal injuries or disorders may cause a great deal of pain or limit a person's movement. There are many causes of spinal conditions, including infections, injuries, degenerative bone changes, spondylitis, scoliosis, and tumors. Some of these disorders can be disabling in nature. Spinal injuries or disorders are relatively common. In fact, spinal conditions and back pain are one of the leading causes of disability.

When a back condition forces someone to miss work, it is necessary to carefully document how the back condition is disabling. First of all, objective testing is required to make a correct diagnosis and reveal the severity of the condition. Objective testing may include x-rays, MRIs, and CT scans, among other tests. One overlooked form of objective evidence is a list of signs observed by the treating physicians. Observable signs may include an abnormal gait when ambulating, pain with movement, and noted areas of the spine which are tender or painful on palpation. Range of motion testing is another type of evidence that is helpful to demonstrate disability. A range of motion test shows the degree to which a person can move each of their joints.

After objective evidence has been used to make a diagnosis, all treatment options must be considered. In most cases, conservative treatment is attempted prior to surgical intervention. Conservative treatment usually means rest, heat or ice therapy, physical therapy or home exercises, pain medications (NSAIDS and/or steroids), injections (nerve blocks and steroids), and non-traditional treatment such as massages, chiropractic adjustments, and acupuncture. If a spinal condition remains severe after conservative treatment and surgery is a possibility, a referral may be made to an orthopedic surgeon or neurosurgeon. Available surgical procedures include laminectomy, discectomy, or a spinal fusion. If surgery is not an option for the patient, then they may be referred to a specialist in pain management.

Continue reading "Disability Due to Spinal Injuries and Disorders" »

Persistent Lyme Disease Symptoms May Cause Disability

June 30, 2014

The Center for Disease Control (www.CDC.gov) reported 17,730 cases of Lyme Disease in the year 2000 and as of 2012, over 100,000 cases have been reported. Lyme Disease is a growing epidemic in America and was first recognized in 1975 in Lyme, Connecticut, where the first outbreak occurred. Lyme Disease is the illness that results from the bite of an infected tick and it is the most common tick-born infectious disease in the United States.

Several related species of Borrelia cause Lyme Disease (Lyme Borrelia). Virtually all patients in the United States are infected with a single species called Borrelia burgdorferi, the spirochete that infects the deer tick and causes Lyme Disease. Worldwide, there are about 850 tick species and 30 major tick-borne diseases.

The infection usually starts with a painless, spreading "bull's eye" rash where the tick had attached itself to the skin. If you notice your tick bite right away and you are treated with antibiotics, this infection can be cleared fairly easily. If the cause is not found until later, people with Lyme Disease are more likely to feel fatigued, suffer from poor sleep, and muscle and joint pain, even after treatment. Other symptoms might be an acute fever, rash, Bells' palsy (paralysis of the face), headache, and joint and muscle pain. Some patients may complain of sensory symptoms such as burning, shooting pain or numbness. Your doctor may administer blood tests to determine if Lyme Disease is causing your symptoms and to rule out other diagnoses.

Continue reading "Persistent Lyme Disease Symptoms May Cause Disability" »

Functional Capacity Evaluations in Disability Claims

May 14, 2014

Functional Capacity Evaluations ("FCEs") are a type of test used to determine the severity of someone's physical impairments. FCEs are common in disability insurance claims, workers compensation claims, and other contexts where the level of a claimant's injury or sickness needs to be evaluated.

FCEs are usually administered by a physical therapist or physician who specializes in occupational medicine. Common measurements during an FCE include how much the claimant can lift, how much they can push and pull, how long they can walk and stand, how long they can sit, the ability to reach in all directions, the ability to grasp and manipulate with each hand, the degree to which a claimant can move all joints, the ability to squat and bend, and the ability to stoop and balance. FCEs can vary in duration: some FCEs are very brief - only a couple of hours - and some FCEs are actually performed over the course of two days.

In long term disability insurance cases, many insurance policies allow the insurance company to request that a claimant undergo an FCE at a facility of their choosing. A claimant's refusal to undergo such testing may give the insurance company grounds to deny disability benefits. Therefore, it is likely that the claimant will have to comply with the insurance company's request for an FCE. However, a claimant may want to consider the following tips before attending an FCE:

Continue reading "Functional Capacity Evaluations in Disability Claims" »

Disabling Neuropathy

April 15, 2014

As type II diabetes becomes more and more common, many people suffer from peripheral neuropathy, which is a result of nerve damage. Neuropathy may cause weakness, pain, or numbness in the hands and feet, although it may occur in other parts of the body. Sometimes this nerve damage becomes so severe that it prevents people from maintaining their normal lifestyle, including the ability to work.

If neuropathy forces someone to stop working and they apply for disability benefits, there are some important tips to help document the disability. First, establishing treatment with a neurologist is very important. A Neurologist is the appropriate specialist to diagnose and treat neuropathy. If a person does not properly document their neuropathy, they will face a tough challenge in having their disability claim approved. Diagnosis requires considering full medical history, neurological examination (such as checking reflexes, sensation, and coordination), physical examination, and appropriate testing. The testing most commonly used for diagnosing neuropathy includes electromyography, nerve conduction tests, nerve biopsy or skin biopsy, blood tests, MRIs or other medical imaging tests, and lumbar puncture (or spinal tap).

Second, it is necessary for the disability claimant to maintain regular treatment with their neurologist and other medical care providers. If it is shown that the disabled person has not complied with recommended treatment, then disability benefits may be denied.

Continue reading "Disabling Neuropathy" »

The Impact of Surveillance on Disability Claims

March 19, 2014

Disability insurance companies may look to more than just medical records and reports when determining whether a claimant qualifies for disability insurance benefits. Insurers have long used private investigators to perform surveillance of claimants in order to obtain additional information regarding the claimant's restrictions and limitations. Oftentimes, the private investigators are asked to document their observations with video to provide tangible evidence of the claimant's daily activities and abilities. Depending on the information gathered, reports from the investigators' surveillance and the associated video evidence can lead to a denial of disability benefits. Generally, when courts review video evidence they look at whether the observations in the surveillance video are consistent with the claimant's reported restrictions and limitations.

A common strategy for disability insurers is to schedule surveillance at a time when the claimant has a scheduled appointment with their doctor or a previously scheduled medical examination. This provides the private investigators with a known opportunity to observe the claimant outside of their home. Inevitably, this allows the surveillance team to observe the claimant driving or riding in a vehicle. In Mote v. Aetna Life Insurance Co., 502 F.3d 601 (7th Cir.2007), Aetna's decision to deny the plaintiff's disability benefits was upheld by the court. Aetna based their decision in part on video surveillance showing the plaintiff running errands, driving to medical appointments, and loading groceries into her car. This evidence was used to establish that the plaintiff could work in "any occupation." However, video surveillance in Gessling v. Grp. Long Term Disability Plan for Employees of Sprint/United Mgmt. Co., 693 F. Supp. 2d 856, 864 (S.D. Ind. 2010) only showed that the claimant was capable of driving a little longer than the fifteen minutes he reported to a Hartford Life representative. The court in Gessling found that this video evidence "says nothing useful about (the claimant's) ability to work in his own occupation."

Similarly, the Northern District of California found that surveillance evidence depicting a plaintiff "walking, driving and doing errands ... for a couple of hours ... does not mean that [that p]laintiff is able to work an eight-hour a day job." Thivierge v. Hartford Life & Accident Ins. Co., 2006 WL 823751, at *11 (N.D.Cal. March 28, 2006). The Eastern District of California reached the same conclusion in a case where Hartford procured surveillance video of the plaintiff driving to the store, visiting a friend, carrying a small bag, and sitting through an interview while taking numerous breaks. Leick v. Hartford Life & Acc. Ins. Co., 2008 WL 1882850 (E.D. Cal. Apr. 24, 2008). The court determined that the plaintiff's documented activity on a "good day" did not contradict that the plaintiff was unable to perform a full-time sedentary job. Id. See also Hunter v. Life Ins. Co. of N. Am., 437 F. App'x 372, 378-79 (6th Cir. 2011) (surveillance of a plaintiff driving to her functional capacity evaluation, as well as other activities of daily living, did not indicate that Hunter can perform all the physical duties of her former occupation).

Key considerations when reviewing surveillance evidence of driving include how long the claimant is operating the vehicle and where they are driving to during the surveillance. Courts seem to understand that driving only 15 or 20 minutes does not reveal much about a person's ability to work in a full-time job. Moreover, if the claimant is driving to a place where they are required to attend, like a doctor's appointment or a trip to the grocery store, then courts have often found this type of activity to be reasonable unless the claimant has reported that they are unable to drive at all.

There have been occasions where a court reviews surveillance evidence of a claimant engaging in activity that is physical in nature. One such case is Holoubek v. Unum Life Ins. Co. of Am., 2006 WL 2434991 (W.D. Wis. Aug. 22, 2006). In Holoubek, Unum obtained surveillance showing the plaintiff engaging in activity including (1) driving an automobile, (2) operating a forklift at a construction site, (3) lifting various objects, (4) walking and bending forward at the waist; and (5) leaving his apartment on four continuous days. In this case, Unum was determining whether the plaintiff could return to his job as a materials manager. Unum terminated the plaintiff's benefits and in the district court's decision, the judge found that Unum's four days of surveillance "is of little value because it fails to demonstrate that plaintiff could sustain such a level of activity on a continuous basis." While relying on the case of Hawkins v. First Union Corp. Long-Term Disability Plan, 326 F.3d 914, 918 (7th Cir.2003), the Holoubek court found that the plaintiff was in a desperate situation and forced "himself to work despite an illness that everyone agree[s] [is] totally disabling." While the court in Holoubek admitted that the surveillance video showed activity inconsistent with the plaintiff's claimed restrictions and limitations, the court ruled that Unum's termination was arbitrary and capricious because Unum failed to explain how plaintiff's observed surveillance activities established that he could perform the material and substantial duties of a materials manager.

Another case examining surveillance footage showing physical activity is Cross v. Metro. Life Ins. Co., 292 F. App'x 888 (11th Cir. 2008). The surveillance footage showed the plaintiff occasionally bending at the waist, squatting, carrying equipment of an unknown weight, and coaching baseball. MetLife characterized the plaintiff's observed activity as "pitch[ing] baseballs to a player in the batting net", although the court's review found that the plaintiff was merely "sitting on a bucket next to a batter and tossing baseballs a few feet up in the air for the batter to hit." MetLife also attempted to bolster its argument by pointing out what the plaintiff was not doing in the video, namely not using braces or supports, not limping, and not exhibiting signs of impairments or pain. Id. The court decided that the surveillance footage is only a "snapshot of Cross's activities throughout the day" and "these snapshots do nothing to disprove Cross's reports of pain." The court noted that the plaintiff increased his dosages of pain medication during his coaching activities since these activities caused him more pain. Even considering MetLife's surveillance video, the Eleventh Circuit held that MetLife's determination that plaintiff is capable of performing his prior occupation is not supported by reasonable grounds.

One case involving Liberty Mutual included three occasions of surveillance video over a four year period. Minix v. Liberty Life Assur. Co., 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 15309 (N.D.Ind.. July 22, 2005). In 1999, the plaintiff, who suffered from ulcerative colitis, was observed performing activity at a horse farm. The surveillance showed Minix enjoyed riding and showing horses on good days. In 1999, Liberty Life did not change its determination that Minix was totally disabled. Id. Again in 2000, the Liberty Life performed surveillance of the plaintiff and he "was observed driving his truck, moving hay, unloading his truck, and sitting in a parking lot for two hours and forty minutes." Id. Still, Liberty Life did not change its opinion that Minix was totally disabled. Yet again in 2002, Liberty performed surveillance and observed Minix riding a "horse for approximately one hour and twenty minutes, walking around, bending at a 90 degree angle to pick up sticks, and sitting on the porch for approximately forty minutes." Id. After the third surveillance period, Liberty terminated Minix's disability benefits claiming that he could return to work in an occupation other than his regular occupation. The court found that the surveillance video did not prove that Minix can return to work and reasoned:

Minix's ability to bend over and pick up sticks, however, is not determinative of whether he is able to perform any occupation. Simply put, ulcerative colitis does not affect these capabilities. Rather, it is Minix's sudden pain and urgent need to use the bathroom which cause interruptions of his work.

In another case involving Hartford Insurance Company, the court reviewed video surveillance of the claimant, among other things, walking for about a mile on five occasions for approximately half an hour. Hanusik v. Hartford Life Ins. Co., 2008 WL 283714 (E.D. Mich. Jan. 31, 2008). Hartford terminated the plaintiff's disability benefits based on this level of activity. The court pointed out that the activities performed by the plaintiff were not ones the Plaintiff alleged she was disabled from performing. The court in Hanusik recognized that the surveillance did not reveal that the plaintiff could perform any single or combination of activities for an eight or four hour period, or strenuously exert herself in consecutive days. The court also did not find the surveillance video reasonably reliable to determine the extent of the plaintiff's fatigue symptoms. Further, the court did not find the surveillance video as credible factual support for Hartford's decision to terminate benefits and therefore the court ruled that the Hartford's determination was wrong.

If your disability claim has been denied in whole or part due to surveillance captured by the insurance company, contact the O'Ryan Law Firm toll free at (855) 778-5055.

Disability Coverage through Liberty Mutual

March 6, 2014

Based in Boston, Massachusetts, Liberty Mutual employs over 50,000 people in more than 900 locations throughout the world. As of December 31, 2012, Liberty Mutual Insurance had $120.1 billion in consolidated assets, $101.5 billion in consolidated liabilities, and $36.9 billion in annual consolidated revenue. The company, founded in 1912, offers a wide range of insurance products and services, including personal automobile, homeowners, workers compensation, commercial multiple peril, commercial automobile, general liability, global specialty, group disability, fire and surety.

Liberty Mutual Group Benefits department provides mid-sized and large businesses with short- and long-term disability insurance products and group life insurance. Many Indiana employers, such as Dow Chemical and Subaru, have purchased short term disability group coverage and long term disability group coverage through Liberty Mutual. Although, oftentimes Liberty Mutual is only the claims administrator for the short term disability coverage and does not insure the short term disability benefits. By issuing the short term and long term disability policies, Liberty Mutual agrees to pay income replacement benefits to employees who become disabled due to injury or illness.

On their website Liberty Mutual notes that as far as Long-Term Disability:

• Between ages 35 and 65 seven in ten employees will be disabled for five weeks or longer.
• Only 15% of LTD claims last longer than five years.
• 98% of Liberty Mutual Insurance's eligible claimants were approved for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits in 2010.

The O'Ryan Law firm has represented numerous clients in short term and long term disability claims which are insured by Liberty Mutual. If you have submitted a claim to Liberty Mutual for disability benefits, it is important to collect all of your medical records and submit them to Liberty Mutual to insure that Liberty Mutual has all of the critical documentation of your disability. Also, it is extremely helpful to have your physician, therapist, or nurse practitioner write a detailed letter to Liberty Mutual explaining how your medical conditions prevent you from returning to work. Letters from friends, co-workers and supervisors can also be helpful in establishing the extent of your restrictions and limitations due to your impairing medical conditions. If Liberty Mutual insists on denying your disability claim, please contact the O'Ryan Law Firm toll free at (855) 778-5055 to further discuss your disability claim with Liberty Mutual. We represent individuals throughout the State of Indiana in Liberty Mutual disability claims including all of the major cities such as Indianapolis, Bloomington, South Bend, Fort Wayne, and West Lafayette.

Madison National Disability Claims

January 29, 2014

The O'Ryan Law Firm has represented several clients in disability claims against Madison National Life Insurance Company. Most of these clients have been teachers or other former employees of school corporations located in Indiana. Madison National has issued disability coverage to numerous school corporations across the State of Indiana committing to provide income replacement benefits to Indiana teachers who have become disabled due to an injury or illness. We have represented several teachers who have had a stroke, suffer from bipolar disorder, or who have been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, among other medical conditions, in disability claims denied by Madison National.

Madison National has been headquartered in Madison, Wisconsin since
1961. They are a wholly-owned subsidiary of Independence Holding Company, a NYSE listed corporation with principal interests in the life and health insurance business. Madison National is involved in several lines of life, health and disability business including Group Life, Short-Term Disability and Long-Term Disability for both public and private sector employers across the country.

Madison National's Group Long Term Disability Plans typically provide the following:

Income replacement from as low as 40% to as high as 70% of pre-disability earnings;
A range of replacement options to help tailor a plan to fit an employee benefit budget;
A wide variety of elimination periods are available;
Benefit waiting periods can be as short as fourteen days to as long as one year and can be designed to coordinate with an existing sick leave and/or Short-Term Disability plan;
Benefits are most commonly paid until retirement age, but can also be shortened for a more economical plan;
Various definitions of disability are available;
Partial or Residual definitions allow an employee to return to work on a part-time basis and still continue to receive a benefit;
Limited durations are available for more economical plans;
Benefits for disabilities due to drug/alcohol, mental/nervous, and/or self-reported conditions can be limited to reduce the cost of the plan;
Many optional plan provisions are available.

In claims with Madison National, it is important to make sure you submit all of your medical records to Madison National and that you have your physician clearly and adequately explain your restrictions and limitations to Madison National. It is important to maintain a regular treatment plan with your treating physicians and to diligently pursue your treatment plan. Otherwise, Madison National may find that your disability claim is not supported and they will readily deny the claim. If your disability claim has been denied by Madison National, please contact the O'Ryan Law Firm at (855) 778-5055.

Disability and Retirement Benefits under the Indiana Public Employees' Retirement Fund (PERF)

January 16, 2014

If a disability forces someone to stop working, he or she may be unsure of available disability benefits. In Indiana, some employees may be eligible for the Public Employees' Retirement Fund (PERF) and Indiana Public Retirement System (INPRS). Indiana employees who may be eligible for these benefits include those working at public universities, school corporations, municipalities, and state agencies.

Disability Benefits under PERF

As of January 2014, the PERF Employer Handbook is available online at the following link: http://www.in.gov/inprs/2416.htm#. According to the PERF Employer Handbook, employees are eligible to apply for disability benefits if they meet the following criteria:

Have five or more years of creditable service under PERF before the termination of salary, or employer provided income protection benefits (disability insurance), or leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), or worker's compensation benefits,

Are determined by the Social Security Administration to be disabled, and

Are receiving salary, or employer provided income protection benefits, or are on leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) as of the onset date established by the Social Security Administration.

If an employee is eligible for PERF disability benefits under the above criteria, they should apply for disability benefits as soon as possible. As mentioned in the first requirement, the employee may first receive "employer provided income protection benefits" or disability insurance. Employer provided income protection benefits differ from PERF disability benefits and requires a separate disability application - usually this application should be filed as soon as the employee stops working due to disability.

Even though the PERF Employer Handbook sets out the above criteria, Indiana Code actually lists an additional requirement once PERF disability benefits have been approved: "at least once each year until the member reaches age 65, PERF verifies the member's continued disability." Ind. Code 5-10.2-4-6. If an employee is approved for disability benefits, then they will continue to receive benefits until age 65 so long as the Social Security Administration continues to approve disability and the employee provides the appropriate information to PERF.

Continue reading "Disability and Retirement Benefits under the Indiana Public Employees' Retirement Fund (PERF)" »

Understanding the Requirements of your Long Term Disability Policy

December 16, 2013

When a person with a disability is completing his or her application for long term disability benefits, they may not realize the terms they must meet in order to receive disability benefits. While long term disability policies can vary greatly, there are some common provisions found within the policies. The below provisions are commonly found in long term disability policies, but please carefully review your policy to learn the specific requirements of receiving long term disability benefits.

Definition of Disability
Every long term disability policy will include a definition of Disability or Total Disability. It is common for this definition to be broken into two parts. Often, the first part defines disability as an injury or illness that prevents the claimant from performing the duties of his or her own occupation. The second part pertains to the disability after a set time period, such as 24 months. This second part defines disability as the same injury or illness that prevents the claimant from performing the duties of any occupation.

It is also worth noting that there can be important terms within the definition of disability. For example, some definitions define "own occupation" as one that is performed in the national economy and can be found in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles. Another example is the definition of "injury" or "illness", which may exclude conditions such as alcoholism or injuries from self-harm. The term "any occupation" may be defined as an occupation that the claimant's experience and training reasonably allows. Because of the important terms within the definition of disability, you will want to carefully review the policy's definition of each term, so that you fully understand the requirements within the definition of disability.

Elimination Period and Other Requirements
Many definitions of disability include more requirements than those mentioned above. One of the most common additional requirements is that a claimant meets an elimination period. An elimination period is usually defined as a set amount of time (such as 180 days) that a claimant must prove to be disabled before becoming eligible for long term disability benefits. An elimination period is important in two ways: 1) a claimant must provide medical documentation showing that they were disabled during this time frame and 2) a claimant will not receive long term disability benefits until the elimination period is exhausted.

Because so many variations in the requirements of disability exist, it is crucial to examine the entire long term disability policy carefully. One common requirement in disability policies is that the insured's disability prevents him from earning 60% or more of his previous earnings (this provision may also allow a person to work part-time, but still qualify for long term disability benefits). An insurance policy could require that a claimant maintains regular treatment with his physician. Other policies may even require that a disability be supported by objective evidence, such as blood tests, x-rays, or MRIs. Some policies may require that a person be approved for disability benefits by the Social Security Administration.

Continue reading "Understanding the Requirements of your Long Term Disability Policy" »

Disabling Chronic Pain

November 22, 2013

One of the most disabling symptoms for our disability clients at the O'Ryan Law Firm is chronic, severe pain. The type of pain that keeps you awake most of the night or forces you to lay down most of the day in order to alleviate the pain just a little bit. The pain that results from degenerative disc disease, fibromyalgia, neuropathy and failed back surgeries among other medical conditions. Disability insurance companies are loath to pay disability benefits when the most significant symptom is disabling pain. Oftentimes, the insurance company will discount considerable evidence that the chronic pain is a significant factor in the disability claim because many of the objective medical testing is "normal." There are no x-rays, MRIs or CT scans that are able to document chronic, severe pain. However, many courts have held that a disability claimant can prove the severity of their pain by showing, with their medical records, repeated attempts to treat the pain including steroid injections, prescription medications, surgery, physical therapy and acupuncture. These treatment methods can show that a claimant is suffering from severe pain.

In this area, when there is an absence of testing to establish the source of pain, a claimant can show that they are disabled by chronic pain by proving that the claimant has diligently sought out treatment for the pain. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has held that "medical science confirms that pain can be severe and disabling even in the absence of 'objective' medical findings, that is, test results that demonstrate a physical condition that normally causes pain of the severity claimed by the [plaintiff]." Carradine v. Barnhart, 360 F.3d 751, 753 (7th Cir.2004). Thus, while objective medical evidence must support a finding of an underlying impairment, subjective evidence can be used to demonstrate that the pain associated with that condition is disabling. Carradine, 360 F.3d 753; see also Hawkins v. First Union Disability Plan, 326 F.3d 914, 919 (7th Cir.2003) "Taken in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, the evidence of [plaintiff's] repeated attempts to seek treatment for his condition supports an inference that his pain, though hard to explain by reference to physical symptoms, was disabling." Diaz v. Prudential Ins. Co., 499 F.3d 640, 645 (7th Cir. 2007). In Sandell v. Prudential Ins. Co., 2007 WL 4404487, *7 (S.D. Ind. Dec. 13, 2007), the court found that a record review commissioned by the plan administrator was not persuasive, in large part because the reviewing physician failed to consider the claimant's subjective pain symptoms or address whether the claimant's pain made it impossible for the plaintiff to hold full-time gainful employment. Similarly in Gessling v. Group Long Term Disability Plan for Employees of Sprint/United Management, 693 F. Supp.2d 856, 866 the Court held:

The record here also shows that Gessling aggressively pursued for several years a range of therapies for his pain, including the rhizotomies, acupuncture, epidural injections, and even hypnosis. Those efforts are hard to reconcile with a theory that Gessling was exaggerating or lying about his pain. See Diaz v. Prudential Ins. Co. of America, 499 F.3d 640, 646 (7th Cir.2007) (reversing summary judgment for plan
under de novo review; efforts at therapy supported credibility of claimant's complaints of pain); Carradine v. Barnhart, 360 F.3d 751, 755 (7th Cir.2004) (remanding denial of
Social Security disability benefits based on subjective pain complaints where claimant had undergone extensive, varied, and intrusive pain therapies).

Also, in Anderson v. Hartford Life and Acc. Ins. Co. et al., 2010 WL 3703037, *7, the Court found an insurer's discounting of the plaintiff's subjective pain and resulting limitations to be unreasonable:

Here, Hartford unreasonably discounted Anderson's subjective complaints of pain and the resulting limitation on her activities. None of Hartford's reviewing physicians acknowledge Anderson's repeated complaints of pain or her treatment for such pain. Instead, all three physicians emphasize the lack of objective physical evidence of disability. See Record at 376 (Dr. Willis' opinion); id. at 150 (Dr. Marion's opinion); id. at 134 (Dr. Topper's opinion). This discounting of Anderson's subjective pain and the resulting limitations on her activities based on a lack of objective evidence was erroneous. See Hawkins, 326 F.3d at 918-19 (7th Cir.2003) (reversing termination of benefits where reviewing physicians discount pain based on lack of objective evidence).

It is improper for insurance companies, such as Cigna, Unum, Prudential, Sedgwick, Madison National, Liberty Life or Lincoln Financial, to deny a disability claim while ignoring and dismissing a claimant's repeated and continuous reports to his or her doctor of severe pain or the extensive treatment that the claimant sought for his or her condition. This supplies the very objective evidence that the insurance company may complain is lacking in your case. If you are suffering from chronic pain and your disability claim has been denied, contact the O'Ryan Law Firm today to discuss your disability claim further.

Disabling Headaches

November 15, 2013

Headaches are an uncommon occurrence for most people. For some people, though, headaches occur frequently, and can be so severe and intense that they are debilitating. When headaches occur frequently, they can force a person to stop working altogether.
Disabling headaches are a non-specific symptom and may be caused by a range of conditions. Therefore, it is crucial for a person to seek medical treatment to learn the cause of their headaches. If a family doctor cannot diagnose the condition causing headaches, then the patient will likely be referred to a neurologist.

Objective testing that explains the cause of the headaches may strengthen the disability claim, so it is important for the patient to undergo any sort of applicable testing. However, the cause of headaches is often not detectable in CT scans or other testing. If the headaches are not explained by test results, then the patient should work with their physicians to determine if any environmental factors are contributing to their headaches.

In cases where the headaches are severe, a patient may be experiencing migraine headaches. Migraines are characterized by moderate to severe headaches along with some of the following symptoms: photophobia (sensitivity to light), phonophobia (sensitivity to sound), pulsating, pain on one side of the head, and nausea/vomiting. Again, it is essential for a patient to explain his or her symptoms to their physicians so that the best course of treatment can be planned. Treatment for migraines may include prescription medications, injections, and attempting to remove trigger sources.

Continue reading "Disabling Headaches " »

Lack of Examination In Denying a Disability Claim

November 6, 2013

If your short term or long term disability benefits have been denied or terminated chances are high that the insurance company has utilized a record reviewing physician to review your medical records and conclude that you are not disabled, without having ever examined you in person. The utilization of record reviewing physicians has become the favorite tactic to deny claims by many of the disability insurance companies such as Cigna, Prudential, Hartford, Sedgwick, Liberty Mutual, Unum and Lincoln Financial. For many of our clients, there are significant medical records and reports from their treating physicians supporting their disability claim yet the insurance company denies the claim because a doctor, who never spoke to or examined the client, says that the client is not disabled and can return to work.

Over the past few several years, the courts have become less tolerant of claims administrators utilizing a bunch of record reviews to deny legitimate claims. Two recent cases from the Southern District of Indiana followed this trend and rejected the opinions of several record reviewing physicians while reversing the denial of benefits. In Gessling v. Group Long Term Disability Plan for Employees of Sprint/United Management, 693 F. Supp.2d 856 (S.D. Ind. 2010), Judge Hamilton held that three paper reviews were insufficient to overcome the medical records and reports from the plaintiff's treating physician. Specifically, Judge Hamilton found:

At the very least, a mere record review is not sufficient to provide a reasonable basis for discounting Dr. Walker's and Gessling's accounts of his pain and resulting limitations. The court does not mean to suggest that it is reviving any requirement of special deference to a treating physician. Far from it. See Nord, 538 U.S. at 825, 123 S.Ct. 1965 (holding that ERISA does not require plans to provide such deference). But to disagree with an apparently sound opinion of a treating physician, a plan administrator needs something much more solid than the consulting physicians provided in this case. See id. at 834, 123 S.Ct. 1965 (reminding courts that plan administrators may not arbitrarily refuse to credit a claimant's reliable evidence, including opinions of a treating physicians). The medical records did not show that Dr. Walker and Gessling must have been correct--the problems of subjective pain and resulting limitations are difficult to evaluate based on records alone. But after reviewing the records, the reviewing physicians failed to come to grips with the real problem, the whole person, and the history that corroborated his complaints of pain. For these reasons, the records reviews in this case did not provide a reasonable basis for denying the disability insurance benefits for which Gessling and his employer paid substantial premiums to
Hartford Life.

Similarly in Anderson v. Hartford Life and Acc. Ins. Co. et al., 2010 WL 3703037, *7 (S.D. Ind. Sept. 10, 2010), Judge Lawrence rejected the opinions of three record reviewers to reverse Hartford's denial of disability benefits and held:

Furthermore, Hartford's reviewing physicians never examined Anderson. All three physicians relied on treatment records supplied by Hartford. The Court is not suggesting that it is recognizing a treating physician rule in the ERISA context. However, for Hartford to disagree with the apparently sound opinions of Anderson's treating physicians, it needed to rely on something more solid than the opinions of the consulting physicians. See Nord, 538 U.S. at 834 (2003) (cautioning plan administrators that they may not arbitrarily discount a treating physician's opinion). In short, the reviewing physicians "failed to come to grips with the real problem, the whole person, and the history that corroborate [her] complaints of pain." Gessling v. Group Long Term Disability Plan for Emps. of Sprint/United Mgmt. Co., 693 F.Supp.2d 856, 866 (S.D.Ind.2010) (Hamilton, J.). Accordingly, the reviewing physicians' opinions and their record review did not provide a reasonable basis for denying Anderson's application for disability benefits.

Likewise, an Indiana jury has rejected an insurer's attempt to terminate a legitimate disability claim based on a bunch of record reviews. In Lumbermens Mut. Cas. Co. v. Combs, 873 N.E.2d 692, 698-701 (Ind. Ct. App. 2007), the plaintiff filed an action against her long term disability insurer, in Marion County under state law, alleging that the insurer wrongfully terminated her disability benefits. In terminating the claim, Lumbermens relied upon the opinions of six record reviewing physicians to reach the conclusion that the plaintiff was no longer disabled. The jury rejected the opinions of all six of Lumbermens' record reviewing physicians to conclude that Lumbermens wrongfully terminated the plaintiff's disability benefits and breached the insurance contract as well as Indiana's covenant of good faith and fair dealing. As damages, the jury awarded the plaintiff $22,583 on the breach of contract claim and $1,500,000 for the defendant's breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing.

Indiana courts, and an Indiana jury, have found that record reviews are not sufficient to overcome the medical records and reports from treating physicians who have the opportunity to observe, examine and treat the claimant. If your disability benefits have been denied or terminated without a medical examination, contact the O'Ryan Law Firm for further assistance and advice.