ERISA disability claimants can receive attorney fees with “some degree of success”

On May 24, 2010, the United States Supreme Court rendered an opinion in the case of Hardt V. Reliance Standard, which is a major victory for disability insurance claimants that have a long-term disability policy governed by ERISA. Reliance Standard, a disability insurance carrier attempted to argue that a disability claimant was not entitled to attorney fees because she was not a “prevailing party” after her case was remanded back to Reliance. For a background summary of this case see Can I recover attorney fees if my long-term disability claim is governed by ERISA?

The United States Supreme Court rejected Reliance Standard’s argument and held that “a claimant need not be a prevailing party to be eligible for attorney’s fees award under 29 USA 1132(g)(1). The court stated the following circumstances under which a court may award attorney’s fees:

“a claimant must show some degree of success on the merits before a court may award attorney’s fees under § 1132(g)(1). A claimant does not satisfy that requirement by achieving trivial success on the merits or a purely procedural victory, but does satisfy it if the court can fairly call the outcome of the litigation some success on the merits without conducting a lengthy inquiry into the question whether a particular party’s success was ‘substantial’ or occurred on a central issue.”

In addition to the above criteria a district court may also consider the following five factors in deciding whether to award attorney fees:

  1. the degree of opposing parties’ culpability or bad faith;
  2. the ability of opposing parties to satisfy an award of attorney’s fees;
  3. whether an award of attorneys’ fees against the opposing parties would deter other persons acting under similar circumstances;
  4. whether the parties requesting attorney’s fees sought to benefit all participants and beneficiaries of an ERISA plan or to resolve a significant legal question regarding ERISA itself;
  5. the relative merits of the parties’ positions.

I think the court’s recent ruling will make it easier for disability claimant’s to receive an award of attorney fees, but there is obviously no guarantee that fees will be awarded. It will be interesting to see how the courts will rule on attorney fee awards following this opinion from the Supreme Court. The new “some degree of success” standard will generate all kinds of new case law! The court’s ruling is a rare ERISA victory for disability claimants. I hope this ruling will deter disability insurance companies from wrongfully denying disability claims.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Bruce R. (Arizona)

Steve Dell has done an exceptional job with my disability application process. The firm is extremely well managed. They have acquired an incredible amount of experience over many years. I recommend them for disability insurance claims without reservation. 

Don (Florida)

I called this firm a few months ago completely disparaged due to a company cutting off disability benefits at a time that nearly caused me to lose everything.

Attorney Alex Palmera and Danielle worked hard to reach an amicable settlement and my case was settled a few months later. This is a good firm and the specific expertise in disability claims saved me countless hours of hassle at a time when an already fragile state existed.

Thank you Mr. Palamara and Danielle.

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