Disability Benefit Claims
North Carolina Disability Benefit Attorneys
Mr. Whiteman has been retained as counsel in over 300 cases involving disability benefits claims and has represented clients in over 45 court cases.
We represent individuals who have claims for:
- Short-term and long-term disability benefits
- Disability pensions
- Denial of benefits under individual or group disability insurance policies
- ERISA disability claims
- FMLA claims
- Group life insurance
We will review the facts of your case on a confidential, no-cost basis and advise you on your options for recovering disability benefits. Please contact us.
Claimants should be aware of the following:
Employee benefits are controlled by ERISA
Disputes involving employee benefits are governed by a federal statute, known as ERISA, which stands for the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974. A law that deals with “employee retirement income security” sounds friendly, however, ERISA provides significant advantages for the employer or insurance company.
In an ERISA case, the claimant is not entitled to a jury trial. Usually, there is no trial at all. Typically, the court’s role is limited to reviewing the plan document and the claim file to determine whether the claims administrator abused its discretion. Under this limited standard of review, the claims administrator’s decision will be upheld if it is “reasonable.” The claims administrator does not have to give greater weight to the claimant’s treating physician and may decide to accept the evaluation of one of its own staff physicians, even if that doctor never examined the claimant. ERISA restricts the court’s review to documents that were available to the claims administrator at the time it issued its final decision. Evidence obtained after the claimant has exhausted his or her administrative appeal rights cannot be considered by the court. Therefore, it is of paramount importance that the claimant develops fully the evidence in support of his claim and submits such evidence to the claims administrator during the claim process.
Non-ERISA disability cases are governed by state law
Holders of individual disability policies have significant advantages over those whose benefits are provided through an employee benefit plan. An individual disability policy is a contract with an insurance company. If the insurance company denies the claim for benefits, the claim is governed by state law. The claimant has the right to file a lawsuit in state or federal court. The claimant has the right to bring witnesses to the trial to support the claim, and the dispute will be resolved by a jury. In addition to the claim for breach of contract, the claimant might be able to raise additional claims if the insurer’s refusal to pay constitutes bad faith. Many states, including North Carolina, have state consumer protection statutes that allow recovery of treble damages and attorney’s fees. Punitive damages may be available if the insurance company’s conduct is bad enough.
There are time limits for acting
Private disability insurance is governed by the wording of the policy. If the insured pays the premiums, the policy remains in force and the insured may submit a new claim for benefits at any time. When the claim involves an employee benefit plan, the plan documents and ERISA provide important time limits. The claimant may lose eligibility If he does not claim disability before the termination of employment. If the claimant does not appeal within 180 days, the claimant may lose his right to claim benefits.
The claimant must exhaust administrative remedies
In an ERISA case, the claimant must proceed through the claim submission and appeal process before he Is allowed to file suit. The failure to exhaust administrative remedies before filing suit usually results in dismissal.
Claimants have important rights
Claims administrators are required to provide a detailed explanation of why the claim was denied and to advise claimants of their right to appeal. Claimants have the right to request that the claims administrator produce plan documents and the claim file. It is imperative that the claimant or his attorney obtain the claim file to evaluate the claim administrator’s evidence and to determine what additional evidence should be submitted.
Support from health care providers is essential
A successful claim requires strong documentary support from healthcare providers. It is usually necessary for the claimant’s doctors to work with the claimant or his attorney to carefully rebut the claims administrator’s arguments. The claimant’s medical records must support a finding of disability.
Understanding the definitions
Most policies contain two or three definitions of disability. These are known as “own occupation,” “any occupation” and “residual disability.” In addition, many employer-sponsored plans provide limited benefits for disabilities caused by mental illness or self-reported symptoms.
Generally, disability coverage offered by an employer will provide that a claimant will be considered disabled if he is unable to perform “the material and substantial duties of his occupation,” or sometimes “each and every material duty of his occupation.” The meaning of those phrases is sometimes not readily apparent. The term “occupation” is broader than “job.” Job duties that are not generally required to perform the occupation will be disregarded in assessing disability. Therefore, when the appeal involves the “own occupation” definition, the starting point should be a detailed job description and an assessment of whether the claimant is unable to perform each of the duties on a full-time basis.
Employee benefit plans usually provide that after two years the claimant will be considered disabled only if he is unable to perform “any occupation for which he is reasonably suited by reason of age, education or experience.” This is a harder definition to meet, as it requires proof that there is no gainful occupation that the claimant can perform.
Disclaimer: Please note that the information on this page is provided for general information purposes only and may not reflect current law in your jurisdiction. The information contained herein should not be considered legal advice. You will not be considered a client of Whiteman Law Firm until we have signed an agreement for legal representation.