Continental Insurance Company ordered to pay long-term disability benefits to bank employee

June 23, 2006, U.S. District Judge Joe B. McDade of the Central District of Illinois Ruled in favor of Susan Svejda, an employee of Mercantile Bancorp. Ms. Svedja was employed with Mercantile until 2002. After several visits to physicians and her neurologist, Dr. Douglas Sullivant, M.D., Ms. Svedja was diagnosed with MS, Chronic imbalance, depression and bowel problems including IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) which require her to frequently rush to the bathroom, often times not making it due to other infirmities. As a result of these conditions, Ms. Svedja stopped working and applied for long-term disability benefits from Mercantile’s insurance contract with Continental.

Continental had Ms. Svedja’s medical records reviewed by their physician, Dr. Eugene Truchelet, who concluded there was not enough information regarding Svedja’s bowel problems to conclude whether she merits long term disability benefits, however she would require some workplace limitations including being close to a restroom.

An investigation ensued, and Ms. Svedja’s physical demands at the office were examined. The conclusion was that Ms. Svedja was required to be placed in close proximity to a restroom due to her bowel complications. Mercantile claimed it was not feasible to move Svedja’s desk to accommodate her. Mercantile subsequently denied Svedja’s claim and she promptly filed suit seeking benefits under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).

Judge McDade stated that Continental’s denial of Ms. Svedja’s claim was unreasonable under an arbitrary and capricious standard of review. Judge McDade stated Continental “chose to completely ignore the unfavorable information that Mercantile submitted about not being able to move Ms. Svedja’s desk close to a restroom, which would allow her to continue to work,” and “failed to provide a specific reason for denial of benefits when they ignored doctors’ opinions.”

Judge McDade found that Ms. Svedja is entitled to benefits under the disability policy. Susan Svejda v. Mercantile Bancorp Inc., et al., No. 04-1263, C.C. Ill.

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