United States Supreme Court to Decide When the Statute of Limitations Period Begins in an ERISA Disability Case

By granting certiorari in Heimeshoff v. Hartford Life and Accident Insurance Co., 496 Fed. Appx. 129, 2012 U.S. App. LEXIS 19269, 2012 WL 4017133 (2d Cir. September 13, 2012), the United States Supreme Court is poised to address an issue that has left countless ERISA claimants without a remedy to challenge a wrongful denial of disability benefits.  Specifically, the Supreme Court will consider when the statute of limitations accrues following a decision to deny a claim for disability benefits.  Or, as a claimant would ask the question, “What is my deadline to file a lawsuit in an ERISA matter?”

In Heimeshoff, the claimant was a Wal-Mart employee who filed long-term disability claim under an ERISA plan, asserting that she could no longer work as of June 2005 because of a variety of conditions, including lupus and fibromyalgia.  Her claim was denied in November 2007, and she filed her lawsuit in November 2010, believing that she met the Policy’s three-year internal limitations period.  However, the District Court granted Hartford’s motion to dismiss, based on the policy language stating that a lawsuit must be brought “within 3 years after written proof of loss is required to be furnished,” which would have been in September 2008 (because proof of loss was due within 90 days of Heimeshoff’s last day at work).

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court’s ruling, rejecting the arguments that the Hartford’s contractual limitations period did not begin to run until the final denial of benefits and that Hartford erred by not disclosing the deadline to file a lawsuit in the final denial letter.

Hopefully, in addressing these issues, the United States Supreme Court’s ruling will simplify the calculation of deadlines to file a lawsuit.  The clearer the rules, the fewer claimants who will be unwittingly left with no remedy to challenge a final denial decision.

Many claimants (and some lawyers) are confused by the deadlines associated with ERISA claims.  If your claim for disability benefits was denied by an insurance company, you should speak with an attorney as soon as possible to ensure that you do not forfeit your right to file a lawsuit.  If you have a dispute with an insurance company and would like to discuss your matter with an attorney, please contact us for a free consultation.

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