O’Ryan Law Firm, on behalf of their client, recently filed a lawsuit against a Liberty Mutual company, Liberty Life Assurance Company of Boston, for denial of a Dow Chemical employee’s long term disability benefits. Our client was employed by Dow Chemical Company as a Global Adverse Effects Coordinator, responsible for ensuring compliance with the US FIFRA (Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act) regulations which protects consumers and the environment. As an employee of Dow Chemical, she was eligible for disability benefits under the Dow Chemical long term Disability insurance policy.
Dow Chemical is a large producer of plastics, including synthetic rubber. It is also a major producer of ethylene oxide, various acrylates, surfactants, and cellulose resins. It produces agricultural chemicals including the pesticide Lorsban and consumer products including Styrofoam.
After 27 years of working for Dow Chemical, our client was forced to stop working when she became disabled from the severe symptoms of Crohn’s Disease. Crohn’s Disease is an inflammatory bowel disease that causes inflammation of the digestive tract, which leads to abdominal pain, severe diarrhea, fatigue, weight loss and malnutrition. The inflammation caused by Crohn’s disease often spreads deep into the layers of the affected bowel tissue and can be both painful and debilitating. Unfortunately, there is no cure for Crohn’s Disease yet.
After she was unable to continue working at Dow, our client applied for disability benefits provided by Liberty Mutual, but Liberty denied her benefits stating that she “was able to return to full time work.” The following is the definition of disabled under the Liberty Mutual disability coverage provided to Dow employees:
- “Disability” or “Disabled” means that during the Elimination Period and the next 24 months of Disability the Covered Person, as a result of Injury or Sickness, is unable to perform the material and Substantial Duties of his regular occupation or any other occupation with the company for which the Covered Person is qualified and which is offered at not less than their current rate of pay; and
- thereafter, the Covered Person is unable to perform, with reasonable continuity, the Material and Substantial Duties of Any Occupation.”
Our client was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease in December 2016 after experiencing diarrhea, blisters in her mouth, pain, fatigue, vomiting and cramps for over a month. She was hospitalized at St. Vincent for three days in December 2016. During her hospitalization she participated in a colonoscopy and an abdominal CT scan which revealed severe pancolitis which is consistent with Crohn’s Disease as well as wall thickening of the entire colon. The biopsies showed acute colitis and ulceration. Our client was diagnosed with anemia, systemic inflammatory response syndrome and dehydration due to pancolitis and treated with IV fluids and solu-medrol.
In July of 2017, our client experienced a severe flare up of her Crohn’s Disease following an upper respiratory infection with increased diarrhea, fatigue and pain. Her treating physician attempted to treat her Crohn’s Disease prescribing various medications, with little relief. On July 14, 2017 her physician took our client off of work completely. In October, her physician prescribed Remicade infusions.
Despite the medical records and treatment for our client, Liberty Mutual refused to pay disability benefits. Liberty failed to adequately evaluate our client’s pain, fatigue and physical impairments from the Crohn’s Disease which include chronic diarrhea, severe cramping, nausea, and pain. Liberty Life used an in-house doctor, Dr. Robert Schwartz, who ignored our client’s diagnosis and treatment of Crohn’s Disease. Our client’s treating physician, Dr. Wilson, prepared an Attending Physician Statement stating unequivocally that his patient is disabled from working her job or any occupation. Of interest, Liberty Life failed to mention, in their denial letter, that they hired a private investigator (HUB Enterprises) in the hopes of following our client. Surveillance was performed from November 26th to 27th of 2017. In Liberty Life’s claim file notes and the report from Hub Enterprises, our client was mistakenly identified and instead compiled limited footage of a friend who was helping her with grocery shopping and errands.
The terms of the lawsuit state that Liberty committed the following wrongful actions against our client:
- Intentionally denying our client’s benefits without any reasonable basis for the denial.
- Compelling our client to initiate litigation to recover the amount due her under the terms of the policy.
- Ignoring the statements of our client’s treating physicians who report that she is disabled and unable to return to work.
We are seeking the following relief from the Court:
- A judgment that requires them to compensate our client her unpaid disability benefits and pay the past due benefits.
- A judgement that Liberty will pay for future monthly benefits as they become due.
- A judgment that Liberty will pay interest on the amount of back benefits which remain unpaid.
- A judgment that will reimburse our client’s attorneys’ fees and costs incurred as a result of Liberty’s wrongful denial of benefits.
The Court has scheduled a settlement conference in the case with the hopes that bringing the parties together may result in a successful conclusion of the case.
If you are a Dow Chemical employee whose disability benefits have been denied by Liberty Mutual, contact the O’Ryan Law Firm to discuss your rights under the Dow Chemical employee benefit plan and the Liberty Mutual disability policy.