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Ex-Law Firm Partner with Parkinson’s Disease Loses Benefits Suit

May 7, 2021, 3:37 PM

A former law firm partner with Parkinson’s disease lost her lawsuit seeking long-term disability benefits and premium-free life insurance coverage from Hartford Life & Accident Insurance Co., according to a ruling by a federal judge in the Northern District of Alabama.

Carol Stewart, a real estate attorney who spent 30 years at Southeastern regional firm Burr & Forman LLP, isn’t entitled to disability benefits from Hartford because she’s already receiving benefits from her firm’s prior disability insurer, Chief Judge Karon Owen Bowdre held Thursday. The Hartford plan has a valid “prior plan” exclusion that blocks Stewart from receiving benefits under both the Hartford plan and the prior plan sponsored by Sun Life Assurance Co. of Canada, Bowdre said.

“The Prior Plan Exclusion relieves Hartford from paying benefits for the claimed ‘Disability’ if the claimant ‘is receiving’ benefits for the same ‘Disability’ under a ‘prior disability plan’ that was sponsored by the claimant’s employer and that was terminated before the effective date of ‘The Policy,’” Bowdre said. “Ms. Stewart falls into the exact category of claimants contemplated by the exclusion: when she applied for LTD benefits because of her Parkinson’s disease under Hartford’s Disability Policy, she was already receiving disability benefits because of her Parkinson’s disease from Sun Life’s disability policy, which Burr sponsored.”

Bowdre added that allowing Stewart to collect disability benefits under both policies would create a windfall, giving her greater monthly income than she had while working full time.

Bowdre also upheld Hartford’s decision denying Stewart premium-free life insurance coverage on account of her claimed disability. Hartford reasonably concluded that Stewart had some capacity to work, whether in a part-time or volunteer capacity, which rendered her ineligible for this benefit, Bowdre said.

Burke Harvey LLC represented Stewart. Maynard Cooper & Gale LLP represented Hartford.

The case is Stewart v. Hartford Life & Accident Ins. Co., 2021 BL 169024, N.D. Ala., 2:17-CV-01423-KOB, 5/6/21.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jacklyn Wille in Washington at jwille@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Nicholas Datlowe at ndatlowe@bloomberglaw.com

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