Articles Posted in Bad Faith

Working as a Purchasing Agent for Purdue University for over 40 year, Dennis H. found he could no longer perform his job duties due to debilitating pain caused by osteoarthritis, right cervicalgia, tremors in his head that caused pain, and lumbar radiculopathy.  These medical conditions cause pain or significant discomfort in his neck, especially at the back and along the sides of his neck. Lumbar radiculopathy results from a nerve in the lower back that is pinched or irritated.  Dennis sought relief through many forms of treatment including epidural steroid injections, without success.  He even tried radiofrequency ablation, which burns off the troubling nerve, in order to improve his neck and back function, reduce his pain medications, and to avoid surgery but unfortunately he received very little relief from the ablation.

When he was unable to continue working, Dennis filed a claim for long term disability benefits provided by Purdue’s employee benefit plan and insured by Life Insurance Company of North America (“LINA”), a subsidiary of Cigna.  Cigna is a global health service company with 95 million customers around the world.  Cigna is a major provider of health-related products and services, the majority of which are offered through employers and other groups. Cigna is the long term disability insurance company for Purdue employees.

Cigna approved Dennis’ claim and paid his benefits from October 2017 through August 2018, when they were abruptly terminated by Cigna without any improvement in his medical condition. While he was receiving Cigna disability benefits, Purdue also provided him with medical coverage and life insurance coverage. When Cigna wrongfully terminated the disability benefits, these other critical benefits were also terminated.

A Facility Maintenance Manager with Purdue University hired O’Ryan Law Firm to assist him with his appeal for long term disability benefits with Cigna.  Cigna approved him for long term disability benefits and Cigna paid him disability benefits for 19 months, under the terms of the Cigna policy, but then they abruptly terminated his benefits in September 2017.  Our client worked at Purdue for over 13 years before he became disabled.  As a Facility Maintenance Manager he was responsible for keeping the Purdue campus premises and office buildings in a clean and orderly condition.  This position required heavy lifting, carrying, pushing and pulling from 20-50 pounds frequently.

Purdue’s main campus is located in West Lafayette, Indiana and is one of the premiere educational institutions for higher education in Indiana.  Purdue offers more than 200 majors for undergraduates, over 69 masters and doctoral programs, and professional degrees in pharmacy and veterinary medicine.

Cigna is a Pennsylvania insurance company who provides the group disability coverage to all Purdue employees.  Under the Cigna policy, Purdue employees are entitled to receive disability benefits if they are determined to be disabled pursuant to the following definition from the policy:

O’Ryan Law Firm, on behalf of a former employee of Purdue University recently filed a lawsuit against Cigna for wrongfully denying the former Purdue employee’s disability claim.  The plaintiff had was a long time employee of Purdue, worked at Purdue for over 32 years, until he became unable to continue working in May 2013 due to chronic respiratory failure, cardiomyopathy,  recurrent pneumonia, atrial fibrillation, bronchial asthma, and osteoarthritis.  The Purdue employee’s treating physicians provided objective medical proof that the Plaintiff was unable to continue working due to these this combination of symptoms.  Cigna originally approved the claim but then terminated his benefits contending that the Plaintiff could return to work.

Prior to Cigna’s termination of the Plaintiff’s long term disability, a Functional Capacity Evaluation was performed that actually showed that he was unable to return to work. The functional capacity report states, “Mr. R has been off work since 2013 after developing problems with lung infections and difficulty breathing. He shows fair static muscle strength in the lower extremities when seated, however, is unable to functionally use his legs on stairs, working off the floor, getting to the floor, sustained walking and standing. Mr. R. showed a consistent standing limit to 2 minutes at a time.” Throughout the exam, Mr. R demonstrated using a cane to walk, labored breathing and slight wheezing, along with needing to rotate positions and taking multiple breaks. The physical ability assessment concluded Mr. R is only able to stand two minutes at a time, rarely able to walk, and rarely able to lift/carry 0-10lbs.

Under video surveillance conducted by Cigna on 3 separate days, there was no activity on the 1st and 3rd days, and when the Plaintiff was observed, he used a cane when walking

The University of Notre Dame is a Catholic research university located near South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame’s Catholic character is reflected in its commitment to the Catholic faith, numerous ministries funded by the school, and the architecture around the campus. Notre Dame rose to national prominence in the early 1900s for its Fighting Irish football team, especially under the guidance of the legendary coach Knute Rockne and is well known for “Touchdown Jesus.”

Cigna is an American worldwide health services organization, whose policies are underwritten by Life Insurance Company of North America (“LINA”). Cigna’s 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.

In June 2015, U.S. health insurer Anthem Inc. announced an offer to acquire Cigna for more than $47 billion in cash and stock. Anthem confirmed it had reached a deal to buy Cigna on July 24, 2015.

Cigna/LINA provides disability coverage to Notre Dame University employees. Cigna disability claims by Notre Dame employees are exempt from the Employee Retirement Income Security Act because the disability plan is considered a “church plan”; therefore, the lawsuit is filed under state law with breach of contract and bad faith counts.
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The O’Ryan Law Firm, on behalf of the Plaintiff, Doug. S., filed a lawsuit in Marion County Indiana against the Indiana State Teachers Association Insurance Trust (“ISTA”) for unpaid disability benefits. The Plaintiff, Doug S., was employed as a shop teacher with the Michigan City Area Schools for many years, which made him eligible for disability benefits under the Long Term Disability Income Benefit Plan sponsored by ISTA.

In Douglas S. v. Indiana State Teachers Association Insurance Trust, the Plaintiff filed a lawsuit to gain the long-term disability benefits he deserved under the terms of the Plan.

Facts of the Case Against ISTA

Plaintiff was employed by the Michigan City Area Schools until he became disabled in 1993 due to the disabling effects of complications from hip fusion reversal, spinal stenosis, scoliosis of the lumbar spine, and cervical spondylosis. When he first became disabled, Doug S. filed an application for long term disability benefits and was paid disability benefits by the ISTA Insurance Trust for 20 years.

ISTA Terminates Long-Term Disability Benefits

On August 1, 2013, ISTA wrongfully terminated the Plaintiff’s long-term disability benefits claiming that the Plaintiff had miraculously recovered from his degenerative issues after 20 years. The Plaintiff then filed an administrative appeal challenging this denial. With this appeal, Plaintiff included significant medical evidence to prove his condition and disability including a report from an Independent Medical Examination by a physician board certified in Occupational Medicine. This report confirmed that Doug S. was disabled. Despite this information, ISTA denied the appeal and the Plaintiff was forced to file a lawsuit to obtain the rest of his disability benefits.
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O’Ryan Law Firm, on behalf of Plaintiff, Pamela H., recently filed a federal lawsuit against Life Insurance Company of North America (LINA) (a subsidiary of Cigna). The Plaintiff was employed by Purdue University, which made her eligible for Purdue’s long-term disability plan, which was insured by LINA.

In Pamela H. v. Life Insurance Company of North America, the Plaintiff filed a disability lawsuit to gain the long-term disability benefits she deserved under the terms of the LINA policy.

Facts of the Case Against LINA

Plaintiff was employed by Purdue University from December 2004 until she became disabled on July 6, 2014 and unable to work. This was due to lumbar radiculopathy and rheumatoid arthritis. Plaintiff’s treating physicians provided objective medical proof that the Plaintiff was unable to continue working due to these ailments.

Plaintiff filed an application for long-term disability benefits and LINA denied her claim on November 3, 2014.
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The Prudential Friendly Society was founded by insurance agent John Fairfield Dryden in a basement office in downtown Newark, N.J., in 1875. It was the first company in the U.S. to make life insurance available to the working class. In business for 137 years, it boast 48,000 employees worldwide.

At the O’Ryan Law Firm, we receive numerous calls a year from individuals who have become disabled, have disability coverage through Prudential, their doctor has reported to Prudential that they cannot work and Prudential denies the claim. One of Prudential’s favorite reasons for denying claims is what they call a lack of “objective medical evidence.” Many conditions, such as fibromyalgia or migraine headaches, result in symptoms, such as pain and fatigue, which are hard to prove objectively. There are no lab tests or diagnostic testing that are able to establish the severity of chronic pain or fatigue. Yet Prudential in these types of claims will insist on objective medical evidence to prove the disability thus making it nearly impossible to get the claim approved.

The courts have made clear in numerous cases that an insurer’s refusal to honor a claim for lack of scientific data such as lab tests and x-rays is an abuse of discretion where no such data exists in medicine for the conditions at issue and where licensed physicians have provided professional opinions that the conditions are genuine and credibly disabling the claimant. See Holmstrom v. Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, 615 F.3d 758, 769-772 (7th Cir. 2010); Leger v. Tribune Company Long Term Disability Benefit Plan, 557, F.3d 823, 834-835 (7th Cir. 2009); Hawkins v. First Union Corporation Long-Term Disability Plan, 326 F.3d 914, 919 (7th Cir. 2003).

In Holmstrom, the claimant suffered from Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (“CPRS”), a condition recognized by the medical community but for which there is no specific diagnostic test. 615 F.3d 758, 768. In that case, the plan acknowledged “Holmstrom’s claims of intractable pain, significant physical limitations, and cognitive deficiency as identified by [claimant and her treating physician],” but found “that the lack of objective findings to support ongoing total disability prevented [the plan] from determining whether [claimant’s] disability was genuine.” Id. at 764. In finding the Holmstrom plan’s denial arbitrary and capricious, the court stated that the plan “gave undue weight to the absence of objective measurements for [claimant’s] impairments,” reasoning that:

Subjectively painful conditions like CPRS and fibromyalgia pose difficult problems for private disability insurance plan administrators and the Social Security Administration, who understandably seek to make decisions based on the most objective evidence available. But we have rejected as arbitrary an administrator’s requirement that a claimant prove her condition with objective data where no definitive objective tests exist for the condition or its severity.
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We have represented numerous clients in short term disability and long term disability claims after Lincoln Financial, also known as Lincoln National, has denied or prematurely terminated the client’s disability benefits claim. Lincoln traces its origin to June 12, 1905, in Fort Wayne, Indiana, as the Lincoln National Life Insurance Company. Perry Randall, a Fort Wayne attorney and entrepreneur, suggested the name “Lincoln,” arguing that the name of Abraham Lincoln would powerfully convey a spirit of integrity. In August, 1905 Robert Todd Lincoln provided a photograph of his father, along with a letter authorizing the use of his father’s likeness and name for company stationery and advertising.Lincoln 3.jpg

Lincoln National Corporation is a Fortune 250 American holding company, which operates multiple insurance and investment management businesses through subsidiary companies. Lincoln Financial Group is the marketing name for LNC and its subsidiary companies. LNC was organized under the laws of the state of Indiana in 1968, and maintains its principal executive offices in Radnor, Pennsylvania In 1928, LNC president Arthur Hall hired Dr. Louis A. Warren, a Lincoln scholar, and in 1929, LNC acquired one of the largest collections of books about Abraham Lincoln in the United States. The Lincoln Museum in Fort Wayne was the second largest Lincoln museum in the country. The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois is now the world’s largest museum dedicated to the life and times of Abraham Lincoln, after the closing of the Fort Wayne Lincoln Museum June 30, 2008.

Lincoln National issues group disability policies, and individual disability policies, to provide income replacement benefits to residents of the State of Indiana who are forced to stop working due to injury or illness. At O’Ryan Law Firm, we have received numerous calls from individuals who were promised disability benefits under a Lincoln National policy yet those benefits were denied by Lincoln despite medical proof establishing that the definition of “Disabled” had been met under the terms of the policy. Several of our clients who are insured by Lincoln National were teachers who had taught for many years until reaching the point where they were no longer able to keep teaching because of medical conditions.

When disabled clients first call the O’Ryan Law Firm, one of the first questions they ask is whether they can obtain punitive damages for the wrongful denial of their disability claim. No doubt, many of our clients have suffered incredible financial and emotional damages as a result of the insurance company either denying their claim outright or terminating the claim before the client can actually return to work. We have had clients suffer terrible financial losses, such as the loss of a vehicle, loss of their credit rating or even the loss of their home through foreclosure, due to the insurance company wrongfully denying their disability claim. Unfortunately, if the client’s disability claim falls under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, commonly known as ERISA, the courts have found that punitive damages are not awardable when the disability claim is subject to ERISA.

ERISA is a federal statute that was passed in 1974 by Congress in order to protect participants of employee benefit plans. Most individuals receive medical coverage, life insurance coverage and disability coverage through their employer. Most employer sponsored benefit plans are governed by ERISA. There are two exceptions: governmental entities and church plans. If your employer is a governmental entity, such as a public university or school corporation, or a church plan, then you would not be covered by ERISA; instead, your claim is subject to state law. Under state law, you may be able to recover damages in excess of what the disability policy provides in the way of monthly disability benefits.

However, most disability claims are governed by ERISA. Unfortunately, the courts have found that ERISA preempts any state laws that allow for compensatory or punitive damages in excess of the policy benefits. For example, in the case of Midwest Security Life Ins. Co. v. Stroup, 730 N.E.2d 163 (Ind. 2000) the Indiana Supreme Court denied the Stroups’ request for punitive damages finding that their health insurance claims were preempted by ERISA. In this case, Patrick and Theresa Stroup received a group health insurance policy from Midwest Security Life Insurance Company as a result of Patrick’s employment and the policy was governed by ERISA because it was an employer sponsored health insurance plan. In January, 1993, Theresa sought predetermination of benefits for surgery to correct congenital problems with her jaw and Midwest approved the surgery. About four months after Theresa’s surgeries, in August 1994, Midwest amended its plan to exclude coverage for orthognathic surgery. In October 1995, she awoke in considerable pain to discover that her jaw had broken. One week later, Theresa underwent bone graft surgery to repair her jaw. In January 1996, Theresa was forced to undergo another surgery because of continued pain and muscle spasms in her jaw.

Over the years, we have represented numerous employees of Indiana colleges and universities who have become disabled because of serious illnesses such as diabetic neuropathy, lyme disease, degenerative disk disease, multiple sclerosis and lymphoma. A large number of those clients were disabled Purdue employees who had worked for Purdue University for many years, some even decades, before reaching the point where they were no longer able to work because of their medical conditions. Purdue has a very generous employee benefit package so our clients were very surprised and extremely disappointed when their disability claims were either denied outright or prematurely terminated by the insurance company.

stock-photo-3175050-bell-tower.jpgPrudential Insurance Company previously insured Purdue’s long term disability program and now Cigna is the insurance carrier for the Purdue long term disability program, or more specifically Cigna’s subsidiary Life Insurance Company of North America. Many Purdue employees have contacted our office after Cigna denied their claim upon their initial application or when Cigna terminated the benefits before the individual was truly able to return to work.

Cigna typically hires consulting physicians, who never examine our clients, to review the person’s medical records and conclude, contrary to the treating physicians, that the client does not have any restrictions or functional impairments. Cigna then relies upon the conclusions of the consulting physicians to deny legitimate disability claims.