The potential disability of a professional, such as a doctor, accountant, lawyer or other professional can have devastating financial consequences for the disabled professional and his or her family members. A sudden inability to engage in your chosen profession after incurring the academic rigors and financial sacrifices associated with obtaining a professional license can mean emotional and physical hardships accentuated by the financial impact of permanent disability.
Disability issues involving professionals can be especially complex because a mental or physical disability might lead to negligence or misconduct that results in professional discipline and the loss of a professional license. When a professional has his or her license to practice revoked and suffers a disability, insurance carriers often attempt to deny long-term disability benefits. The legal issues involved in seeking long-term disability benefits are complicated, so anyone in this situation should seek immediate legal advice. Below I provide a general overview of how some courts around the country have handled claims by attorneys, physicians, chiropractors, psychiatrists, dentists, accountants, and other professionals. There are several trends depending on three basic scenarios.
Medical Disabilities Prior to the Unrelated Loss of a Professional License
The initial starting point for the analysis of the relationship between a physical or mental disability and the loss of a professional license (i.e., legal disability) is that private disability policies do not generally cover legal disabilities. If a person suffers a physical or mental disability and the loss of a professional license, then the relative timing of the medical and legal disabilities often dictate the issue of coverage. Courts often find coverage when the physical or mental disability precedes loss of a professional license even if the negligent, unlawful or unethical conduct that led to professional discipline occurred prior to the medical disability. This generalization only applies if the medical disability is unrelated to the acts or omissions responsible for the adverse professional sanctions.
Professional Discipline Causing Medical Disability
Predictably, doctors, attorneys and other professionals who lose their professional license often suffer extreme stress, anxiety, and/or depression. When an individual is considered disabled because of a diagnosable psychological disorder like depression following suspension of a professional license, the mental condition generally will not provide a basis for receiving long-term disability benefits.
Experienced Professionals Who Lose Their License Despite Functioning with a Disability for Years
Many time professionals with serious mental disorders function for years in a career while developing thriving professional practices. When a professional with a mental illness manages to effectively work as a professional for years before facing professional discipline, courts are divided on whether this situation justifies disability benefits. Some courts take the position that the ability of a doctor or lawyer to successfully perform the functions of the profession for years demonstrates that the mental illness was not disabling. Other courts acknowledge that the professional successfully earned a living while suffering with a medical condition like mental illness. However, judges that take this view contend the medical condition eventually caused the professional to engage in the misconduct that resulted in professional discipline. In other words, the mental illness was eventually disabling even though there was a lapse in time between onset of the mental illness and the claimant becoming disabled.
These generalizations reflect general trends, but the law in this area is evolving and varies substantially between jurisdictions. If you are a professional who is considering filing or who has filed a long-term disability claim while also experiencing a professional license revocation, you should talk to an experienced Florida disability claims attorney familiar with claims by professionals. This area of law is complicated and unsettled so none of the information in this blog post should be considered a substitute for legal advice from a licensed Florida attorney.
Our Miami long-term disability law firm invites you to contact us if you are having difficulties with your insurance company. Miami attorney J.P. Gonzalez-Sirgo handles disability claims disputes involving professionals in Miami and throughout Florida. The Law Firm of J.P. Gonzalez-Sirgo, P.A. offers free consultations and case evaluations. No Recovery, No Lawyer Fees. Call 305-461-1095 or Toll Free 1-866-71-CLAIM.