A federal district court in California in LaVertu v. Unum Life Ins. Co. evaluated the appropriateness of an insurer’s decision to discontinue long-term disability insurance benefits to its insured.  LaVertu had worked as an administrative assistant at an insurance company.  She filed for disability after suffering chronic back pain.  The insurance company commenced paying benefits, which were paid for a two year period.  However, the insurer eventually terminated benefits based on the contention that Lavertu was no longer disabled under the definition provided in the insurance policy.  When the insured’s appeal to the insurer was denied, she filed a lawsuit.

During the lawsuit, LaVertu introduced evidence that she had endured three distinct spinal surgeries in an attempt to repair the damage to her spine.  The procedures provided no relief, and the policyholder eventually was awarded disability benefits under the Social Security Act.  The insurance carrier sought discovery of the entire Social Security disability claims file.  Based on the file, the insurer’s own in-house vocational consultant conceded that the file supported a conclusion that the insured could only sit for a period of four hours per day.  Thus, the vocational consultant reasoned that the insured was unable to meet the exertional demands of a sedentary occupation.  Other evidence introduced in the lawsuit included an internal note that indicated, “Clmt is [totally disabled] any occ and R&Ls are permanent.”  The insurer contacted the policyholder and represented that no improvement in the insured’s medical condition was anticipated, so benefits were being extended.

After two years, a physician conducted a paper review of the claims file and issued an opinion that LaVertu was able to perform full-time sedentary work.  The doctor recommended that this conclusion be verified through an independent medical examination.  The report from the examination advised that the insured could perform part-time sedentary work with hourly 10 minute rest breaks.  The insurance company sought legal guidance on whether it could terminate benefits based on the insured’s ability to perform part-time work with these limitations.  While the legal department indicated this was not a legal basis to terminate benefits, the insurer did so anyway.

The court evaluating the evidence determined that the insured was disabled because there was no evidence her condition was improving.  The court also observed that limited walk, stand and sit capabilities preclude sedentary work.  The judge citing Gordon v. Northwest Airlines, Inc. Long term Disability Income Plan observed, “Common sense dictates that someone who cannot walk, sit or stand more than 2.5 hours per day cannot do sedentary work.”

Despite substantial evidence from vocational experts and physicians, the insurer in this case continued to advance the specious argument that the ability to engage in extremely limited part-time sedentary work means an individual is not disabled.  The notion that a person is able to engage in a sedentary job but only with ten minute breaks on an hourly basis might seem ludicrous, but the position taken by the insurance company demonstrates how far a carrier will go to avoid paying a long-term disability insurance claim.

You can reach Miami Insurance Claims Lawyer J.P. Gonzalez-Sirgo by dialing his direct number at (786) 272-5841, calling the main office at (305) 461-1095, or Toll Free at 1 (866) 71-CLAIM or email Attorney Gonzalez-Sirgo directly at [email protected].

J.P. Gonzalez-Sirgo
J.P. Gonzalez-Sirgo, P.A.
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