Speca v. Aetna: “Rush to Judgment” in Just 14 Days Violates ERISA Rights to Full and Fair Review and Appeal

Posted in: Disability Insurance, ERISA, Insurance Litigation Blog August 22, 2019

ERISA guarantees claimants a “full and fair review” as well as an appeal of any denial by the insurance company.  Can a disability claims insurer deny a claim too quickly and thus violate its duty to provide a full and fair review?  A recent decision answered “yes” to this question.  In Speca v. Aetna Life Ins. Co., 2019 WL 3754210 (D. Nev. August 8, 2019), the court ruled that Aetna Life Insurance Company (“Aetna”) did not provide a “full and fair review” and effectively cut off any meaningful access to an appeal when it denied a claim in just 14 days (without even waiting to receive any medical records).

Plaintiff, Paul Speca, worked at Home Depot until November 6, 2015 …

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The Basics of an ERISA Life, Health and Disability Insurance Claim – Part One: ERISA Background, Purpose and Timing Requirements

Posted in: ERISA August 12, 2019

In this several part Blog Series entitled The Basics of an ERISA Life, Health and Disability Insurance Claim, we will discuss the basics of an ERISA life, health and disability claim, from navigating a claim, handling a claim denial and through preparing a case for litigation.  In Part One of this Series, we discuss the background and purpose of ERISA, along with procedural rules and practical considerations for a disability claim.

Congress enacted the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”) (29 U.S.C. § 1132(e)(2)) in response to public dissatisfaction with poorly funded pension plans, onerous vesting requirements and labor leader misuse of union benefit funds.  Senator Jacob Javits, a sponsor of ERISA, observed at the time that …

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The Basics of an ERISA Life, Health and Disability Insurance Claim – Part Four: Denial of an ERISA Disability Claim or Appeal

Posted in: Disability Insurance, ERISA, Insurance Litigation Blog August 11, 2019

In this several-part blog series titled The Basics of an ERISA Life, Health and Disability Insurance Claim, we discuss the basics of an ERISA life, health, accidental death and dismemberment and disability claim, from navigating a claim, to handling a claim denial and through preparing a case for litigation.  In Part Four of this series, we discuss ERISA claim denials.  Our focus in this article will be mostly on disability insurance claim denials.

When denying a claim, an insurer is required to provide a written explanation of the basis of its denial.  Under Section 503 of ERISA, “every employee benefit plan shall . . . provide adequate notice in writing to any participant or beneficiary whose claim for benefits …

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Cassim v. Allstate Insurance: Attorney’s Fees in Contingency-Fee “Bad Faith” Cases

Posted in: Attorneys' Fees, Bad Faith, Disability Insurance, ERISA, Health Insurance, Insurance Litigation Blog, Legal Articles July 26, 2019

Since 2004, when the California Supreme Court ruled that a “portion” of contingency attorney’s fees are recoverable in bad-faith insurance cases, plaintiffs and their lawyers have been able to recover attorney’s fees based in part on the specific terms of the contingency-fee retainer agreement.  For starters, in order to recover attorney’s fees in these actions, a policyholder must prove that (1) contractual benefits were withheld in bad faith, and (2) reasonable fees were incurred by the policyholder to recover those benefits.  However, any attorney’s fees incurred merely to prove the alleged “bad faith” claims are not recoverable at all; only fees incurred to prove actual coverage are recoverable.  Cassim v. Allstate Insurance, 33 Cal.4th 780, 811 (2004).

In Cassim

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McBean v. United of Omaha Life: Judge Anello Finds Employer Liable for Breach of Fiduciary Duty, Orders Payment of Life Insurance Policies’ Face Value under Equitable Surcharge Theory

Posted in: ERISA, Insurance Litigation Blog, Legal Articles, Life Insurance July 02, 2019

McBean v. United of Omaha Life: Judge Anello Finds Employer Liable for Breach of Fiduciary Duty, Orders Payment of Life Insurance Policies’ Face Value under Equitable Surcharge Theory

Application of the doctrine of “equitable surcharge” in ERISA has become a very significant theory of recovery for ERISA plan participants in obtaining their life insurance and medical insurance benefits.  In a recent decision by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, McBean v. United of Omaha Life Insurance Company, 2019 WL 1508456, the ERISA surcharge theory was used to overturn the denial of a life insurance claim, thus salvaging substantial life insurance benefits that would otherwise have been lost through breach of fiduciary duty and misrepresentation.

In McBean

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In Harlow v. MetLife, Judge Bernal Brings Clarity to Disputes Involving “Reasonable” Attorneys’ Fees Adopting Standards Favorable to ERISA Claimants

Posted in: Attorneys Fees, Disability Insurance, Disability Insurance News, ERISA, Insurance Litigation Blog, Legal Articles June 19, 2019

The topic of attorneys’ fees has long been of interest to insurance lawyers and clients alike.  Recently, the courts have grappled with issues such as: When are attorneys’ fees recoverable? What types of billing practices are reasonable?  What are reasonable hourly rates?  Attorneys want the assurance that the fees they charge will be deemed “reasonable,” and defendants (the insurance companies) want to know when they can raise defenses to the amount of an attorneys’ fees they may be expected to pay.  In this article, we will consider a recent case that has helped bring some clarity to the issue of “reasonable” fees for legal work.  Robert J. McKennon of McKennon Law Group PC acted as an expert in this case …

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Tenth Circuit Finds that Policy Terms in an ERISA Plan Did Not Unequivocally Grant an ERISA Administrator Discretion to Interpret Plan Terms, Applies De Novo Review

Posted in: Disability Insurance, ERISA, Insurance Litigation Blog, Policy Interpretation, Standard of Review May 17, 2019

Insurance companies acting as ERISA plan administrators often are guilty of abusing their discretion to interpret policy language related to the level of benefits payable to a claimant under a long-term disability (“LTD”) policy in a manner most beneficial to them, rather than the claimant.  In a recent decision by the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, Hodges v. Life Insurance Company of North America, 920 F.3d 669 (10th Cir. 2019), the court addressed the ability of insurance companies such as Life Insurance Company of North America (“LINA”) from interpreting policy language that may determine the level of benefits payable to a claimant.

In Hodges, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the ruling of the district court that …

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The Basics of an ERISA Life, Health and Disability Insurance Claim – Part Three: Procedural and Practical Considerations to an ERISA Claim

Posted in: ERISA April 22, 2019

In this several part Blog Series entitled The Basics of an ERISA Life, Health and Disability Insurance Claim, we discuss the basics of an ERISA life, health, accidental death and dismemberment and disability claim, from navigating a claim, handling a claim denial and through preparing a case for litigation.  In Part Three of this Series, we discuss procedural considerations to an ERISA claim, as well as deadlines and timeframes to carefully monitor.

When first reviewing a potential ERISA matter, it is crucial to first determine the procedural history of your client’s claim and whether there have been any denials.  Most denial letters in ERISA cases set forth specific deadlines to file to an appeal.  In fact, the Department of …

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The Basics of an ERISA Life, Health and Disability Insurance Claim – Part Two: Plan and Claims Administrators

Posted in: ERISA, Insurance Litigation Blog April 01, 2019

In this several part Blog Series entitled The Basics of an ERISA Life, Health and Disability Insurance Claim, we discuss the basics of an ERISA life, health and disability claim, from navigating a claim, handling a claim denial and through preparing a case for litigation.  In Part Two of this Series, we discuss the roles of various Administrators, the administrative record and the laws requiring Administrators to provide their records to a claimant.

Two different entities manage an ERISA plan: the Plan Administrator and the Claims Administrator. Oftentimes, the two roles are performed by different entities.  The Plan Administrator manages and sponsors the plan and must ensure that the plan complies with applicable regulations.  The Plan Administrator is often …

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Ten Things to Consider and Look For in Your ERISA Life and/or Accidental Death and Dismemberment (AD&D) Insurance Plans When You Select Benefits or File a Claim

Posted in: Accidental Death or Dismemberment, Administrative Record, ERISA, Insurance Litigation Blog, Insurance Questions and Concepts, Life Insurance, Statute of Limitations March 18, 2019

1. Obtain a full copy of your plan. The full plan will not typically be a benefit summary or a print-out from a website. It will be fairly long and many definitions and it will recite your ERISA plan terms, policies and procedures for filing a life insurance or AD&D claim and handling the claim, claim denials, appeals of claim denials, etc.  The claims administrator will likely not have a copy of the full plan.  You can request a copy of the full plan from your Employer’s Human Resources department or often from the claims administrator (the insurer or third-party administrator).

2. Read the plan. Your plan document controls the rights and obligations of the parties, including all plan participants …

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