by “One who wants to see laws change”
The worst insurance policy to have is a long-term disability (LTD) policy because it usually falls under the guidelines of Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). If you make a claim on an ERISA covered LTD policy and have been denied benefits, you will be unlikely to find an attorney to pursue the matter. The major obstacles to finding an attorney to handle your lawsuit are that you must sue in Federal court, you are unable to collect attorney fees if you do prevail, punitive damages cannot be awarded, and it cannot stop the insurance company from just doing it again after time has passed.
You will not have much luck with your state’s Department of Insurance (DOI) either. Of all the state DOI’s, California is probably the most effective one, and even it is powerless when it comes to a LTD policy covered by ERISA. In fact, no state regulates ERISA insurance policies. The state DOI’s only regulate how the insurance company conducts business in the state-not the policy itself.
I purchased a long-term disability (LTD) policy with CNA insurance thinking I would probably never use it but if something should happen to me, this policy would take care of me as it so stated. I didn’t think about it again, just made my payments each month, until my life turned upside down and I wasn’t able to work.
I was brought up with a strong work ethic, and I loved my work. I would have done it without pay if I could have lived without an income. This only increased the emotional pain of not working. Regardless of how much I wanted to return to work, the physical pain and was too great to overcome. Eventually my injury required surgery which was supposed to make me as “good as new” but unfortunately took away one physical problem and created others.
For the first 3 months of my disability, I had short term disability insurance through my employer’s insurance. For the balance of the first year, CNA made LTD payments to me but subtracted from their payments the full amount of the State of California’s Disability Insurance (SDI) benefits. CNA’s contact rep assured me I was lucky and had a good policy and I would be taken care of. Actually that was the first rep I had, (She was the one who said don’t bother with workers comp because you have us and the policy clearly indicates you’re covered!) As the months went by, I was passed on to new reps. The kind and compassionate attitude diminished with each rep change. At the end of the year, when California’s State Disability Insurance was about to run out, I received a letter from my newest rep stating CNA was denying any future benefits because they felt I ‘should’ be better. My LTD income immediately stopped. I later found out that this was typical…to stop paying when they would have to pay the first complete benefit payment. First make you feel safe, then kick you in the stomach when you are the most vunerable.
It didn’t matter to CNA that all 6 of my very reputable medical doctors said I was 100% disabled nor did CNA think I had a right to be examined by one of their physicians. I asked to see their doctor. I had nothing to hide. But I was refused. I was never examined by a doctor or representative of CNA insurance. Our only communication was over the phone with an assigned rep. Yet, I had one of the “good” policies that said CNA would cover me if I could not go back to the kind of work I had been doing when I was injured, and that I would be covered as long as I was disabled. They cut me off, and I was told the only thing I could do was to file a petition for a grievance and wait 90 days before I had an answer. If I continued to be turned down, I would then have to appeal to Federal Court. Since they wouldn’t even send me to a doctor, it was pretty clear what the answer would be. It was also clear that this would be dragged out. I had to find an attorney.
I was not getting any better and, if anything, my situation was deteriorating under the stress of not knowing how I was going to be able to pay the rent and day-to-day bills and my COBRA $300 a month health insurance. I hadn’t filed for worker’s comp because the CNA Rep told me not to bother because they would take care of me. Also, I thought I would be going back to work soon. Like so many others faced with medical expenses I was forced to use credit cards to live while waiting for resolution. Eventually, I was forced into bankruptcy. Which was humiliating after a lifetime of good credit.
Like so many disabled individuals who find it difficult to muster the energy to fight a deep pocket insurance company, I needed help in working through the insurance company’s labyrinth of mythical proportions. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the help of a friend.
Phone call after phone call to attorneys who handle insurance claims were met with the same response after telling them of my denial by the LTD insurance company-laughter.With the help of my friend he found an attorney who would see to me.
We located a law firm familiar with ERISA, and one that wasn’t on the side of insurance companies. At first, after wading through the contracts, it seemed clear that my claim against CNA insurance clearly DID NOT fall under ERISA guidelines and that the case could and should be heard in a California state court. Unfortunately, over a period of time, and several meetings, my attorneys were out maneuvered by CNA’s attorneys. CNA provided NEW material that made references to ERISA–(surprise…surprise). Though not the original contract which I possessed (which indicated that I, not the company, had purchased the LTD insurance from CNA and I not the company paid for it without any reference to ERISA) , the new material made references to ERISA.
This new material, and a similar case elevated to the 9th Circuit Court which had just been denied the right to litigate in State Court, meant to my attorneys, that this made my chances of recovery slim. My case now referred back to Federal Court and I was left SOL. However, I was told that if I tried to go after CNA through Federal court, CNA would charge me their attorney fees for what they had already spent on the case while I was trying to be heard in state court. They strongarmed me into signing a statement that said I wouldn’t pursue it further. They forced me to stop. What else could I do. I couldn’t risk losing in Federal Court and then oweing their attorney fees. I maintain they defrauded me. To date, about $500,000 worth. This is just the monthly benefits I didn’t get. Since I am still disabled and the policy was for my lifetime…the backpay keeps growing.
Fortunately, after being turned down the first time (common practice) and obtaining a social security attorney, SSDI approved my claim for 100% disability. I was able to start receiving Social Security Disability income. I also found a great Workers Comp attorney. After filing for bankruptcy, and moving to a lower income area I was able to just barely live on social security disability income. It took another 5 years to finally settle my workers comp claim. If it had not been for social security, I would have been destitute. As it was I was left with 7-10 years of bad credit and the humiliation of how it effects all aspects of ones life.
Long term disability insurance policies are worthless. The stats I found said that only 5% of the insured fight back when they are denied their rightful benefits–5%. That means I am in the 5% who fought and look what happened to me. I had all the reputable doctors, all the documentation, a signed contract that stated that the policy was between me and the insurance company, but when it came down to using it, they ‘found’ bogus “company” documentation that I had never been privy to, dated after my contract, that placed me “under ERISA guidelines. They defrauded me and there was nothing I could do about it. Nothing. No laws to protect me.
My only way to fight this injustice was through State Court and for a while I believed I might actually achieve justice. But the laws are set up for the insurance companies not people who are disabled. The judges side with the insurance companies a majority of the time. I get angry when I hear misinformed people making comments about ‘those people’ who collect disability income and spend leisure time water skiing or laying around pretending to be injured…stealing the federal or state money…you’ve heard the comments. I mean, after all, who do YOU believe, individuals who ask for disability income or insurance companies?
Most people who ask for help, are legitimate, the insurance companies lobby in Washington and State Capitols, sell commercials on tv and radio, insert lies as public service announcements to make us believe that “those people pretending to be disabled” are causing “your taxes or insurance payments to go up”. The truth is their greed is causing the insurance policies to go up. I have learned a lot in the last 8 years. I hope this will help others who might be going through this. Get Attorneys, and fight for your life. Maybe you’ll be the one. The one to win in court. The one to change the laws to protect yourself and others in need. Maybe you’re feeling great today…no one expects to be injured and unable to work. When we feel well we all think we’re invincible, but we’re not. Contact your representatives…ask about your rights. Protect your future and the future of your family.