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Marathoner With Long Covid Sues Guardian Life for Disability (1)

Jan. 20, 2022, 4:43 PMUpdated: Jan. 20, 2022, 7:29 PM

A marathon runner who contracted Covid-19 at age 29 filed a federal lawsuit in California, claiming Guardian Life Insurance Co. owes her disability benefits because her post-Covid fatigue, pain, and brain fog make her unable to work.

The runner, who worked as a product manager for financial technology company SigFig, says she had an “active and busy life” that included running annual marathons, practicing yoga, rock climbing, and working on a novel.

But after contracting Covid-19 in June 2020, she says she experienced headaches, pain, cognitive problems, and other symptoms and was diagnosed with post-viral fatigue syndrome, chronic fatigue syndrome, and a blood flow disorder causing lightheadedness and fainting.

The lawsuit is among the first wave of federal cases seeking disability benefits based solely on post-Covid ailments under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. Attorneys expect to see more of these cases in the future, but deadline extensions from the Labor Department, difficulty in obtaining medical records, and increased telework has drawn out the already lengthy internal appeals process beneficiaries must go through with an insurer before they can take their case to court, according to a 2021 Bloomberg Law report.

Here, Anisha Sekar says Guardian Life initially paid her short-term disability benefits until October 2020. It told her in March 2021 that she was entitled to no further short-term benefits because her medical file didn’t show an inability to perform her usual occupation, she says.

But this is wrong, Sekar said in a complaint filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. Sekar says that at her worst, she “barely had enough energy to eat, feed her cat, or go to the bathroom and she did not have enough strength to brush her teeth.”

Sekar said that her primary disabling symptoms are “neurological/cognitive” and that “any improvement in her physical symptoms should not be confused with the ability to perform cognitively-intense tasks.”

“We are aware of the matter; however, Guardian has not been served with the lawsuit, and we do not comment on pending litigation or the particulars of an insured’s claimed disability,” a Guardian spokeswoman told Bloomberg Law in an email.

Causes of Action: Benefits due under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act.

Relief: Award of benefits, order on entitlement to ongoing benefits, and attorneys’ fees.

Attorneys: Springer Ayeni PLC represents Sekar.

The case is Sekar v. Guardian Life Ins. Co., N.D. Cal., No. 4:22-cv-00342, complaint 1/19/22.

(Updates with response from Guardian in eighth paragraph.)

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

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com

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