Benefits & Executive Compensation News

Baker Donelson Lawyer Loses Bid for Disability Benefits

Feb. 22, 2019, 5:14 PM

A Baker Donelson attorney who claimed to suffer from fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue lost her lawsuit seeking disability benefits from Unum Life Insurance Co. of America.

Unum’s decision to pay the attorney just 24 months of disability benefits on account of mental illness—as opposed to continued benefits based on a physical impairment—was based on substantial medical evidence, Judge Martin L.C. Feldman of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana held.

The attorney faulted Unum for requiring objective medical evidence of a condition that’s defined more by self-reported pain than objective manifestations. But Feldman disagreed, saying Unum wasn’t obligated to accept the opinions of her treating physicians, who “did little more than repeat what she had told them.”

The attorney also faulted Unum for failing to divulge the results of its in-person surveillance of her, which showed her staying inside her house for two days and stepping out once to receive a package. Feldman said it “would have been provident” of Unum to address this surveillance when it denied her claim, but the insurer’s failure to do so didn’t otherwise taint its decision-making process.

The record contained evidence the attorney was anxious, depressed, and unable to concentrate or focus because of her pain and fatigue, Feldman said. But it also contained evidence that her cognitive and problem solving abilities were strong and not tainted by memory dysfunction, Feldman said.

Given these data points, it wasn’t unreasonable for Unum to determine that the attorney was able to perform her job and thus wasn’t entitled to continued benefits.

Stone Pigman Walther Wittmann LLC represented the attorney. McCranie Sistrunk Anzelmo Hardy represented Unum.

The case is Wittmann v. Unum Life Ins. Co. of Am., 2019 BL 57727, E.D. La., No. 2:17-cv-09501-MLCF-JCW, 2/21/19.

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

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jo-el J. Meyer at jmeyer@bloomberglaw.com

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