Court orders Prudential to re-evaluate long-term disability claim of engineer suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia

Mrs. Pettigrew was an employee of Pioneer Automotive Technologies, Inc from December 8, 2003 until May 15, 2006.  Her most recent position was that of a senior engineer.  Mrs. Pettigrew had been experiencing increasing pain and symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), Fibromyalgia and Radiculopathy.  Because of the increasing problems Mrs. Pettigrew was facing, she was finally forced to stop working.  On May 25, 2006 Mrs. Pettigrew submitted a claim for short-term disability benefits, claiming that she was unable to work due to fatigue, severe pain causing lack of concentration, difficulty sitting as well as standing.

Mrs. Pettigrew was granted short-term benefits, which were extended twice.  On October 18, 2006 and November 8, 2006 she was informed that Pioneer would need more information to make a determination regarding claims for short-term or long-term disability benefits.  Mrs. Pettigrew was informed that her benefits would stop October 9, 2008 because Pioneer had determined that she was able to perform sedentary work full-time and that long-term benefits were going to be denied based on the fact that Mrs. Pettigrew’s disability did not continue a full 180 days.

Medical records revealed that Mrs. Pettigrew’s conditions had been worsening since May of 2005.  An initial review by Dr. Erik Kovan, Mrs. Pettigrew’s regular physician,  radiculopathy and cervical myositis was observed, matching the pain Mrs. Pettigrew was describing.  Mrs. Pettigrew received ongoing treatment from Dr. Kovan from June 13, 2005 to April 25, 2008.  On top of this, Mrs. Pettigrew was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia on April 19, 2006 by Dr. Jason Postula-Stein.  June 10th of 2006 saw Mrs. Pettigrew being examined by rheumatologist James E. Dowd for generalized progressive pain, fatigue, headaches, neck pain and stiffness, join stiffness, myalgia, anxiety and insomnia.  Dr. Dowd suggested the possibility of Mrs. Pettigrew suffering from Vitamin D deficiency.

June 28, 2006, Mrs. Pettigrew began treatment with James Neuenschwander, MD, for chronic fatigue. Treatment continued through May 2, 2007.  Dr. Neuenschwander wrote a letter on November 1, 2006 stating “that Mrs. Pettigrew was improving slowly, but that any significant stressor, including returning to work too early, would set back any improvement she has seen.”

Dr. Neuenschwander also said, Finally, walking your dog for half a mile three times a day is hardly the equivalent of working 40 hours per week. If she can return to work with the limitations that she can leave when she is exhausted, come in late when she is unable to sleep, call in when her pain has become incapacitating, and have someone double check her work for mental mistakes, then she may be able to return to work.”

Dr. Dianna L. Neal, MD was hired by Prudential to conduct a medical file review of Mrs. Pettigrew’s records.  Dr. Neal concluded that Mrs. Pettigrew was able to work at a sedentary level and the basis of her findings was on investigations conducted by Prudential.  It should be noted that Prudential hired private investigators to Mrs. Pettigrew’s neighbors and friends in order to verify her physical disabilities. While it was never alleged in this case, it appears that Prudential violated Mrs. Pettigrew’s confidential medical information by discussing her medical condition with friends and neighbors.  Dr. Neal recommended a peer review, a process in which a group of professionals look at the claim file, the medical records and come to a conclusion of whether they believe the individual is disabled or not. This was never done, and Prudential denied and terminated Mrs. Pettigrew’s disability benefits two days later. Mrs. Pettigrew appealed the denial of disability benefits.

A notice was sent to Mrs. Pettigrew on August 24, 2007 that Prudential had scheduled an appointment with an independent medical examiner and rheumatologist, Dr. Dale Baker. Mrs. Pettigrew’s attorney informed Prudential that Mrs. Pettigrew would not be attending that exam, which caused Prudential to deny benefits again for her failure to attend the IME.   In most cases a disability insurance company can deny disability benefits if a claimant fails to attend an Independent Medical Exam requested by the insurance company.

When Mrs. Pettigrew took Prudential to court, it was determined that Prudential had failed to explain how they came to the conclusion that Mrs. Pettigrew could have worked in a sedentary position full-time.  The judge looked over the case and found that Mrs. Pettigrew should have another chance at a full and fair review.  Therefore, he remanded the case back to Prudential, for a full, fair investigation regarding Mrs. Pettigrew and her disabilities.  Although Mrs. Pettigrew won the right to have her case reviewed by Prudential for a third time, it is unfortunate that the court did not order Prudential to pay disability benefits. If Prudential denies her again, then her only option will be to file another lawsuit and unfortunately go through everything again.

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