Articles Posted in Termination of long term disability benefits

The O’Ryan Law Firm has represented numerous employees of Indiana University (“IU”) who have become disabled because of serious illnesses such as chronic pancreatitis, lymes disease, degenerative disk disease, ovarian cancer, and osteoarthritis. A large number of those clients were employees who had worked for Indiana University for many years, some even decades, before reaching the point where they were no longer able to work because of their medical conditions.

Indiana University’s Long Term Disability Plan is an income replacement plan for IU employees who become disabled due to an illness or accident[1].  The following are the general terms of the long term disability coverage provided to IU employees:

  • With claim approval, the plan pays a regular monthly income when an enrolled employee becomes disabled.

Earlier this month, Judge Richard Posner abruptly announced his retirement from the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit after more than 35 years on the bench, effective the following day. Judge Posner, a prolific writer and author of more than 3300 judicial opinions and nearly 40 books, was one of the most prominent appellate judges in the United States and the most-cited legal scholar of the 20th century, according to a survey by the Journal of Legal Studies. He carefully drafted his legal opinions to be easy to read and understand, and his signature concise, frank, and often humorous writing style helped to modernize the discipline of legal writing, presenting a stark contrast from the overly formal, long-winded “legalese” that had long dominated the legal field.

Just over three months prior to his retirement, Judge Posner authored an opinionKennedy v. The Lilly Extended Disability Plan, 856 F.3d 1136 (7th Cir. 2017), awarding substantial long term disability benefits to Cathleen Kennedy, an O’Ryan Law Firm client who had been forced to stop working in her position as an HR executive for Eli Lilly & Company as a result of severe fibromyalgia, a nightmarish condition characterized by chronic widespread musculoskeletal pain and fatigue that often presents with psychosomatic symptoms such as sleep and memory issues, anxiety, and depression. Unfortunately, because many of the primary symptoms of fibromyalgia – especially pain and fatigue – are difficult to objectively measure, the condition has historically been misunderstood and often goes undiagnosed due to the lack of a reliable means of testing for it. As a result, those who suffer from fibromyalgia also frequently must deal with the frustration caused by doubts about the validity of their condition and symptoms by friends, family, and sometimes even their healthcare providers.

Fortunately, recent scientific advances in the understanding of fibromyalgia have led to increasing acceptance of the validity of the condition and its profound impact on the lives of those who suffer from it. Judge Posner recognized this in his opinion, noting that Lilly itself markets a treatment for fibromyalgia and has been advised by one of its own physicians that fibromyalgia “is not only very common but is typically also very disabling” and that many victims of fibromyalgia “end up needing to stop working because of this condition.” Nonetheless, Lilly had terminated Ms. Kennedy’s long term disability benefits after she had been disabled for nearly four years due to fibromyalgia, despite the fact that her primary treating physicians had declared her to be permanently disabled, largely because there was no objective laboratory data proving the validity of her symptoms. Lilly claimed that although Ms. Kennedy was unable to work full time in her previous executive-level position, she could still work part time in one of “various non-executive positions” in her field.

O’Ryan Law Firm, on behalf of our client, Jeremy C., recently filed a lawsuit against Liberty Life Mutual after they wrongfully terminated Jeremy’s disability benefits. Our client was employed as a Store Manager with Wal-Mart, which made him eligible for disability benefits offered through the Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. employee benefit plan.  Liberty Mutual is actually the insurance company for the long term disability coverage offered to Wal-Mart employees.

Jeremy worked for many years at Wal-Mart, the last several years as a Store Manager, until he was forced to stop working in March 2015, because of his medical conditions the worst of which was Sjogren’s Syndrome.  Sjögren’s is a systemic autoimmune disease that affects the entire body. The symptoms from this disease include profound fatigue, memory loss, recurrent sinusitis, difficulty with speech, reflux, esophagitis, muscle pain, upset stomach, irritable bowel, peripheral neuropathy and many more.

As a result of Sjogren’s Syndrome, our client suffered specifically from gait instability, memory loss, episodes of dysarthria and slurred speech, overall weakness/fatigue, numbness and tingling in the right arm and right leg, tremors after physical activity, abdominal pain, acute sinusitis, colon polyps, gastroesophogeal reflux disease with esophagitis, exhaustion, and continuous headaches.  The multitude and severity of these symptoms made it impossible for our client to continue handling the responsibilities of a store manager at a large Wal-Mart store located in Lebanon, Indiana.

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

O’Ryan Law Firm recently settled a lawsuit against American United Life Insurance Company (“AUL”) on behalf of a client whose long term disability benefits were prematurely terminated by AUL.   AUL is headquartered in Indianapolis and has their main office in downtown Indianapolis in the AUL building.  The client, Candace, is actually a New Jersey resident so naturally it would make sense to file the claim in New Jersey.  However, the O’Ryan Law Firm was able to represent Candace in Indiana because of the fact that AUL is incorporated under Indiana law.  As a result, AUL may be sued in Indiana and the lawsuit was therefore filed in the federal district court for the Southern District of Indiana.

Case Against AUL

Candace was employed as an accounts manager for an insurance brokerage company from 2008 until she became disabled in December 2012.  She became unable to work due to lumbar radiculopathy and moderately severe cervical stenosis, both of which resulted in chronic pain and fecal incontinence. Her treating physicians provided objective medical proof that the she was unable to continue working due to these medical impairments.

O’Ryan Law Firm, on behalf of Plaintiff Jo Ellen W., recently filed a lawsuit against Sedgwick Claims Management Services, Inc. (“Sedgwick”). The Plaintiff was employed as a Labor and Delivery Clinical Nurse with Franciscan Alliance which made her eligible for disability benefits under the Franciscan Alliance, Inc. Short-Term and Long-Term Disability Benefit Plans (the “Plan”).

In Jo Ellen W. v .Franciscan Alliance, Inc. Short-Term and Long-Term Disability Plans and Sedgwick Claims Management Services, the Plaintiff filed a lawsuit to gain the long term disability benefits she was entitled to under the terms of the Franciscan Alliance Plan.

Facts of the Case

At the O’Ryan Law Firm, we represent numerous clients who have become disabled and their disability claim was denied by their insurance company. We then represent the clients in the appeal process to appeal the denial of their disability benefits.  Lately, many of the insurance companies have be issuing late determination decisions on the appeals that we submit to those companies.  By law, an insurance company is required to issue a decision within 45 days of the date of receipt of the appeal unless an extension is warranted due to “special circumstances” but even then, a decision on the appeal must be rendered within 90 days at the latest.

The Supreme Court in Firestone Tire & Rubber v. Bruch, 489 U.S. 101, 115 (1989) held that de novo adjudication of employee benefit claims is the norm. Because the de novo standard of review is the default standard in an ERISA employee benefits case, the plan administrator or insurance company bears the burden of showing that the more deferential standard should apply. Fay v. Oxford Health Plan, 287 F.3d 96, 104 (2d Cir.2002)Marguez-Massas v. Squibb Mfg., Inc., 344 F.Supp.2d 315, 320 (D.P.R. 2004); McDonald v. Timberland Co. Group LTD Coverage Program, 2002 WL 122382, at *3 (D.N.H. Jan.23, 2002). Accordingly, once in litigation, a disability insurance company bears the burden of proving that their decision is entitled to deferential review by the Court.

The regulations governing ERISA disability claims require insurance companies to issue a decision on a claimant’s appeal within 45 days of the date that the insurance company received the appeal unless “special circumstances” warrant an extension of time for an additional 45 days; however, in “no event” shall the extension of time exceed 45 days. 29 C.F.R. §2560.503-1(i)(1), (i)(3), (i)(4).

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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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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