Recently, we prevailed in federal court on a contract interpretation issue under an ERISA short term disability insurance policy.
Due to an illness, our client could not perform some of the essential duties of her job. She could perform some of her duties, she just couldn’t perform them all. Our client filed a claim for STD benefits under her ERISA plan. The insurance company denied the claim, asserting that she could still perform some of the material duties of her job, and therefore she did not meet the definition of “disabled” under the insurance policy.
We filed suit in federal court. On summary judgment, the Court found agreed that an insured could be entitled to disability benefits if she could show that she was disabled from only one of the essential duties of her occupation. Plaintiff cited Lain v. UNUM Life Insurance Company of America, 279 F.3d 337 (5th Cir. 2002), abrogation recognized on other grounds, Holland v. International Paper Co. Retirement Plan, 576 F.3d 240 (5th Cir. 2009) in support of her position.
The AT&T Plan at issue defined disability as follows:
“Total Disability” or “Totally Disabled” for short-term disability means that because of Illness or Injury, you are unable to perform all of the essential functions of your job or another available job assigned by your Participating Company with the same full-time or part-time classification for which you are qualified.
The Court found the phrase “all of the essential functions” ambiguous. The Court rejected the Defendants’ argument that if plaintiff could do one of the essential duties of her job, then she was not disabled. Instead, the Court found that if, for example, there were 10 material duties of her occupation, if she was unable to do even one of those duties, then she would be disabled as defined by the Plan.
Litigation continues. In cases like this we, represent the policy holder on a contingency fee basis. There are no fees or costs unless we win, and if we do win we will attempt to force the insurance company or plan administrator to pay our fees and costs under 29 U.S.C. Section 1132(g).