Can UNUM Be Sued for Defamation in a Disability Insurance Case?

In Allen v. Unum Life Insurance Company of America, after her long term disability benefits were denied, plaintiff, a pharmacy technician who suffered a serious back injury in a car accident, filed a federal lawsuit under ERISA. She included a claim for defamation based on two letters sent by the Plan administrator. One letter was to her treating physician asking for more information about her medical condition. The other letter was to her attorney explaining why her benefits were terminated.

Unum moved to dismiss the defamation count, alleging it was preempted by ERISA. A Virginia federal district court agreed with Unum and dismissed the defamation claim, holding: “Allen bases her defamation claim on two letters sent by Unum in the course of processing her benefit claim for long-term disability. As these letters–and, by extension, Allen’s defamation claim—arose in course of processing a benefit claim, Allen’s claim relates to an ERISA plan and, thus, ERISA preempts it.”

Plaintiff’s Defamation Allegations

After suffering a serious back injury in a car accident leading to a spinal fusion, Unum granted the plaintiff short term disability benefits, then partial long term disability benefits. After 24 months, the definition of long term disability under the Unum plan changed, so near the end of the 24 month period, Unum began a review of her medical condition to determine whether or not to extend the long term benefits.

In its course of review, Unum sent a letter to her treating physician. Unum later sent a letter to her attorney explaining why it decided to deny her long term disability benefits.

Plaintiff based her defamation allegations on the content of these two letters.

ERISA Preempts Defamation Cause of Action When Allegations Based on Routine Claim Review Process

The Virginia federal district court noted that the purpose of ERISA’s preemption provision is “to ensure that employee benefit plan regulation would be ‘exclusively a federal concern.'” Since Allen’s defamation claims were based on Unum’s fiduciary conduct during the claim review process, she was essentially seeking an alternative remedy to that afforded her under ERISA.

The court noted that there are cases where the allegations of defamation are based on conduct of a Plan Administrator that have nothing to do with the processing of the claim. In those cases, ERISA will not preempt the state law claims. But, the Allen case is not in that category.

In this case, the behavior about which a plaintiff complains was “undertaken by the plan administrator in the course of carrying out its plan responsibilities.” Accordingly, the sole remedy is under ERISA which preempts the defamation claim.

This case was not handled by our office, but it may provide claimants guidance if they think they have a claim for defamation against their disability insurer. If you need assistance with a similar matter please contact any of our lawyers for a free consultation.

DISABILITY INSURANCE COMPANY INFORMATION
Videos, Questions, Resolved Cases, Lawsuit Summaries & Company Reviews

disability insurance companies complaints

Leave a comment or ask us a question

FAQ

Do you help Unum claimants nationwide?

We represent Unum clients nationwide and we encourage you to contact us for a FREE immediate phone consultation with one of our experienced disability insurance attorneys.

Can you help with a Unum disability insurance policy?

Our disability insurance lawyers help policy holders seeking short or long term disability insurance benefits from Unum. We have helped thousands of disability insurance claimants nationwide with monthly disability benefits. With more than 40 years of disability insurance experience we have helped individuals in almost every occupation and we are familiar with the disability income policies offered by Unum.

How do you help Unum claimants?

Our lawyers help individuals that have either purchased a Unum long term disability insurance policy from an insurance company or obtained short or long term disability insurance coverage as a benefit from their employer.

Our experienced lawyers can assist with Unum:

  • ERISA and Non-ERISA Appeals of Disability Benefit Denials
  • ERISA and Non-ERISA Disability Benefit Lawsuits
  • Applying For Short or Long Term Disability Benefits
  • Daily Handling & Management of Your Disability Claim
  • Disability Insurance Lump-Sum Buyout or Settlement Negotiations

Do you work in my state?

Yes. We are a national disability insurance law firm that is available to represent you regardless of where you live in the United States. We have partner lawyers in every state and we have filed lawsuits in most federal courts nationwide. Our disability lawyers represent disability claimants at all stages of a claim for disability insurance benefits. There is nothing that our lawyers have not seen in the disability insurance world.

What are your fees?

Since we represent disability insurance claimants at different stages of a disability insurance claim we offer a variety of different fee options. We understand that claimants living on disability insurance benefits have a limited source of income; therefore we always try to work with the claimant to make our attorney fees as affordable as possible.

The three available fee options are a contingency fee agreement (no attorney fee or cost unless we make a recovery), hourly fee or fixed flat rate.

In every case we provide each client with a written fee agreement detailing the terms and conditions. We always offer a free initial phone consultation and we appreciate the opportunity to work with you in obtaining payment of your disability insurance benefits.

Do I have to come to your office to work with your law firm?

No. For purposes of efficiency and to reduce expenses for our clients we have found that 99% of our clients prefer to communicate via telephone, e-mail, fax, GoToMeeting.com sessions, or Skype. If you prefer an initial in-person meeting please let us know. A disability company will never require you to come to their office and similarly we are set up so that we handle your entire claim without the need for you to come to our office.

How can I contact you?

When you call us during normal business hours you will immediately speak with a disability attorney. We can be reached at 800-682-8331 or by email. Lawyer and staff must return all client calls same day. Client emails are usually replied to within the same business day and seem to be the preferred and most efficient method of communication for most clients.

Reviews   *****

Andrea L.

Hearing from your doctor that you are no longer healthy enough to work was one of the most difficult days of my life. Dell & Schaefer helped me navigate through the challenging process of collecting disability benefits. They allowed me to focus on my health while they took care of my financial concerns. I simply was not well enough to fight with the insurance company myself and it was such a relief knowing that they were fighting for me.

Read 424 reviews

Speak With An Attorney Now

Request a free legal consultation: Call 800-682-8331 or Email Us