Articles Posted in Long term disability denial

O’Ryan Law Firm, on behalf of Plaintiff Laura McKenzie, recently filed a federal lawsuit against Life Insurance Company of North America (“LINA”), which is a subsidiary of Cigna Corporation. The Plaintiff was employed as a Registered Nurse with Allied Physicians, which made her eligible for disability benefits under the Allied Physicians, Inc. Long Term Disability Plan (the “Plan”).

In Laura McKenzie v. Life Insurance Company of North America and Allied Physicians, Inc. Long Term Disability Plan, the Plaintiff filed a lawsuit to gain the long-term disability benefits she was entitled to under the terms of the Plan.

Facts of the Case Against LINA

Plaintiff was employed by Allied Physicians, Inc. as a Registered Nurse until she became disabled in 2009 due to the disabling effects of cervical and lumbar spondylosis and other serious medical conditions. Plaintiff filed an application for long term disability benefits and was paid disability benefits by the Allied Physicians, Inc. Long Term Disability Plan from October 2014 to October 2016. LINA issued the disability policy that provided disability coverage to the employees of Allied Physicians.
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O’Ryan Law Firm, on behalf of Plaintiff, Jilian F., recently filed a federal lawsuit against Metropolitan Life Insurance Company (“MetLife”) in an attempt to reinstate the Plaintiff’s disability benefits claim. The Plaintiff was employed as a Marketing Communication Specialist with Landis + Gyr, which made her eligible for disability benefits under the Cellnet + Hunt Employee’s Welfare Benefit Plan (the “Plan”). In Jilian F. v. Metropolitan Life Insurance Company and Cellnet + Hunt Employee’s Welfare Benefit Plan, the Plaintiff filed a lawsuit to gain the long-term disability benefits she was entitled to under the terms of the MetLife policy.

Facts of the Case Against MetLife

Plaintiff was employed by Landis + Gyr until she became disabled in 2011 due to the disabling effects of Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, cervical degenerative disc disease and cervical radiculopathy, severe neck pain, fibromyalgia, carpal tunnel syndrome, and paresthesia.

Plaintiff filed an application for long term disability benefits and was paid disability benefits by MetLife from August 2013 to September 17, 2014.

MetLife Terminates Long-Term Disability Benefits

On September 17, 2014, MetLife wrongfully terminated the Plaintiff’s long-term disability benefits. Plaintiff, represented by the O’Ryan Law Firm, then filed an administrative appeal with MetLife challenging the termination of her disability benefits. With this appeal, the Plaintiff included significant medical evidence to prove that she continued to meet the definition of Disabled under the MetLife policy. However, MetLife refused to overturn their decision to terminate the benefits. As a result, the Plaintiff was forced to file a lawsuit under ERISA in federal court against MetLife to obtain the benefits due her under the MetLife policy.
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Many of our clients suffer from depression as a result of their disabling physical conditions or they may have other disabling psychiatric conditions such as bipolar disorder. It is important to be aware that most disability policies cut-off disability benefits after 24 months of benefits if the disabling medical condition is considered a psychiatric condition otherwise known as a “mental impairment.” Each policy contains different language on this issue. For instance, the Prudential policy provides

What Disabilities Have a Limited Pay period Under Your Plan?

Disabilities which, as determined by Prudential, are due in whole or part to Mental illness also have a limited pay period during your lifetime.

The limited pay period for self-reported symptoms and mental illness combined is 24 months during your lifetime.

Mental illness means a psychiatric or psychological condition regardless of cause. Mental illness includes but is not limited to schizophrenia, depression, manic depressive or bipolar illness, anxiety, somatization, substance related disorders and/or adjustment disorders or other conditions. These conditions are usually treated by a mental health provider…using psychotherapy or psychotropic drugs.

In the case of Deal v. Prudential:

 Deal saw a host of medical professionals for both physical and psychological conditions out of a knee injury and associated pain.
 Diagnosed with Moderate Major Depressive Order  Two psychologists reports indicating Deal’s disability caused, at least in part, by mental disorders  The Court concluded–“Prudential has not shown that the mental disorder benefit limitation applies.”
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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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Digestive disorders can cause a wide range of symptoms including abdominal pain, fatigue, diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, and weight loss. Inflammatory bowel disease (“IBD”, not to be confused with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, IBS) may be responsible for such symptoms. IBD includes, but is not limited to, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. When these conditions are not controlled, symptoms may become so frequent and severe that work is not possible.

Testing and Treatment

To assess IBD, the patient should seek treatment with a gastroenterologist. A gastroenterologist (GI) is the appropriate specialist to determine which testing is needed, and which treatment options are available. Available tests include endoscopy/colonoscopy, biopsy, blood tests, stool tests, and small intestine imaging. These tests may need to be repeated on occasion to determine how the disease is progressing.

Treatment options for Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis vary patient to patient. Some GI specialists may present surgery as an option, although conservative treatment will be attempted first. Typically, adjustments to diet and medications will be offered first. Types of medication options are aminosalicylates, corticosteroids, immunomodulators, antibiotics, and biologic therapies. A high percentage of Crohn’s disease patients will have surgery, although surgery does not cure Crohn’s – it can only conserve portions of the gastrointestinal tract.

Maintaining Treatment and Recording Gastrointestinal Symptoms

Disabled patients should make sure they maintain treatment with GI specialists, follow their prescribed diet, and follow their doctors’ treatment plans as best as possible. Often, patients will only see their GI specialist on a quarterly basis. Due to the chronic nature of IBD and the possibility that symptoms may wax and wane, it is not possible for patients to see their doctor every time there is a slight change in their condition. Therefore, it is advisable for disabled IBD patients to keep a log of their gastrointestinal symptoms. The log should indicate which days the patient is experiencing gastrointestinal symptoms, how long the symptoms last, and which symptoms are occurring. The patient may also want to note any other important data, such as abdominal pain level (rated on a scale of 1-10), what may have caused the symptoms (such as a stressful situation or a change in diet), and medication taken. For computer and smart phone users, there are options to easily record gastrointestinal symptoms such as GI Buddy App (available for iPhone and Android users). IBD patients should provide copies of their GI logs to treating doctors.
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Founded in 1820, Indiana University has eight campuses in the State of Indiana and is a world leader in professional, medical and technological education. With over 17,000 employees state-wide, IU offers a generous benefit package which includes long term disability coverage through Standard Insurance. At the O’Ryan Law Firm, we have represented numerous IU employees who have become disabled and have been denied their long term disability benefits by Standard Insurance. We have represented professors, Human Resources professionals, and IT professionals, among others, employed at IU who applied for disability benefits with Standard, after their medical conditions made it impossible for them to continue working, and Standard Insurance denied those benefits.

“Disabled” or “Disability” is defined for IU employees in the Standard Insurance Policy as:

You are Disabled if you meet one of the following definitions during the period it applied: A. Own Occupation Definition of Disability; B. Any Occupation Definition of Disability; or Partial Disability Definition
A. Own Occupation Definition of Disability
During the Benefit Waiting Period and the Own Occupation Period you are required to be Disabled only from your Own Occupation. You are Disabled from your Own Occupation if, as a result of Physical Disease, Injury or Pregnancy or Mental Disorder, you are unable to perform with reasonable continuity the Material Duties of your Own Occupation.

B. Any Occupation of Disability
During the Any Occupation Period you are required to be Disabled from all occupations.
You are Disabled from all occupations if, as a result of Physical Disease, Injury, Pregnancy or Mental Disorder, you are unable to perform with reasonable continuity the Material Duties of Any Occupation.

Any Occupation means any occupation or employment which you are able to perform, whether due to education, training or experience, which is available at one or more locations in the national economy and in which you can be expected to earn at least 80% of your Indexed Predisability earnings within twelve months following your return to work, regardless of whether you are working in that or any other occupation.
Material Duties means the essential tasks, functions and operations, and the skills, abilities, knowledge, training and experience, generally required by employers from those engaged in a particular occupation that cannot be reasonably modified or omitted. In no event will we consider working an average of more than 40 hours per week to be a Material Duty.

C. Partial Disability Definition During the Benefit Waiting Period and the Own Occupation Period, you are Partially Disabled when you work in your Own Occupation, but as a result of Physical Disease, Injury, Pregnancy, or Mental Disorder, you are unable to earn 80% or more of your Indexed Predisability Earnings, in that occupation.

To deny these claims under the policy, Standard Insurance routinely utilizes their in-house physician, Dr. Richard Handelsman, to review the medical records and opine that the IU employee is not disabled. Dr. Handelsman is the Medical Director for Standard Insurance and a salaried employee of Standard. Dr. Handelsman never examines the claimant and bases his opinion solely on medical records; therefore, his opinion is limited to only a review of the medical records. Also, we have found that Dr. Handelsman’s reports oftentimes fail to address important symptoms, like chronic pain, which are critical components to the disability claim.
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A diagnosis of cancer – even one that is treatable – cannot be taken lightly. Although significant progress has been made in the field of cancer research and treatment, cancer still takes the lives of millions of people worldwide every year. There are over 100 types of cancer and treatment can vary for individuals on a case-by-case basis. Often, cancer and the treatment of cancer (which may include surgery, chemotherapy, and/or radiation) can force individuals to stop working.

Some may assume that a cancer patient who applies for disability benefits will easily be approved for disability benefits. However, this is not always true. It is not enough to prove a diagnosis of cancer and expect to receive disability benefits. Rather, the individual must show that the cancer and/or cancer treatment is causing severe symptoms that would prevent the performance of work and that they meet the applicable definition of “Disability”.

To improve the chances of being approved for disability benefits, the patient should have their doctor clearly document all of their symptoms, including pain, headaches, fatigue, nausea, numbness, dizziness, inability to concentrate, memory problems, difficulty walking or standing, emotional difficulty, and any other symptoms that affect functioning. This means that the patient must maintain treatment for all medical professionals they see, including oncologists, surgeons, family doctors, pain management specialists, and others.

The individual should also carefully track the symptoms they experience after surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation. Each of these forms of treatment may come with severe side effects. For example, chemotherapy may cause peripheral neuropathy. If a chemotherapy patient experiences neuropathy, they should have their doctor carefully document their symptoms of pain and numbness, and also undergo appropriate testing (EMG) to prove that the patient is experiencing neuropathy. Another possible side effect of chemotherapy is “chemo brain”. If an individual experiences chemo brain, they should undergo a mental status examination to document their forgetfulness, trouble concentrating, trouble multi-tasking, taking longer to finish tasks, or other memory problems.

Radiation affects people differently, but it may cause skin changes, tiredness, diarrhea, or trouble eating, among other side effects. Again, it is important to have medical providers document each and every symptom experienced. If a disability claim is missing documentation about each symptom, then it may not accurately depict the severity of the individual’s condition.
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As one of the largest employers in Indiana, Eli Lilly covers thousands of employees under their Extended Disability Plan (“Lilly EDL Plan”). The Lilly EDL Plan is self-insured, a rarity in the long term disability world. Just a few years ago, Anthem was the claims administrator for the Lilly EDL Plan but in the spring of 2012, Lilly hired Sedgwick to administer extended disability claims under the EDL Plan. Shortly after this time, our office began receiving calls from Lilly employees whose EDL benefits had been terminated or were under investigation by Sedgwick.

One of the calls we received was from the former Executive Director of Human Resources at Lilly who had worked for Lilly for over 25 years. Unfortunately, her diagnosis of Fibromyalgia worsened over the years until she was forced to leave Lilly and apply for short and long term disability benefits in December 2007. Fibromyalgia is a disease the Seventh Circuit has characterized as “common, but elusive and mysterious.” Sarchet v. Charter, 78 F.3d 305, 306 (7th Cir. 1996). In evaluating fibromyalgia in the context of a disability claim, the court in Sarchet described the disease as:

Its cause or causes are unknown, there is no cure, and, of greatest importance to disability law, its symptoms are entirely subjective. There are no laboratory tests for the presence or severity of fibromyalgia. The principal symptoms are “pain all over,” fatigue, disturbed sleep, stiffness, and–the only symptom that discriminates between it and other diseases of a rheumatic character–multiple tender spots, more precisely 18 fixed locations on the body (and the rule of thumb is that the patient must have at least 11 of them to be diagnosed as having fibromyalgia) that when pressed firmly cause the patient to flinch.

Based on the severity of her fibromyalgia condition, our client was approved for EDL benefits in May 2009 and she received those benefits for over 3½ until Sedgwick abruptly terminated those benefits.
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More students than ever are graduating with student loan debt. Tuition has skyrocketed in the last few decades and it is now common for college graduates to owe tens of thousands of dollars by the time they earn their undergraduate diploma. If an individual becomes disabled before they pay back their federal student loan debt, they may face a very difficult situation.

If an individual took out student loans to finance their education, then these loans are currently not dischargable by bankruptcy unless that individual can prove that repaying the loan would cause an “undue hardship“. Proving an “undue hardship” is an extremely high standard to show unless the individual has a severe disability. The U.S. Department of Education’s website provides the reasons for which a student loan may be forgiven, cancelled, or discharged: Department of Education’s website.

Federal student loans may be discharged if the borrower suffers a total and permanent disability. According to the U.S. Department of Education, there are three ways for an individual to prove that they are totally and permanently disabled:

1. If you are a veteran, you can submit documentation from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) showing that the VA has determined that you are unemployable due to a service-connected disability.
2. If you are receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, you can submit a Social Security Administration (SSA) notice of award for SSDI or SSI benefits stating that your next scheduled disability review will be within five to seven years from the date of your most recent SSA disability determination.
3. You can submit certification from a physician that you are totally and permanently disabled. Your physician must certify that you are unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of a medically determinable physical or mental impairment that – Can be expected to result in death,
– Has lasted for a continuous period of not less than 60 months, or – Can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 60 months.

The Department of Education allows individuals to apply for a “Total and Permanent Disability (TPD) Discharge” for federal loans online at the following website: http://www.disabilitydischarge.com/home/
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