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Federal Court Orders Unum to Release Documents Following Disability Insurance Denial

Attorney Cesar GavidiaAuthor: Attorney Cesar Gavidia

Recently, Unum was ordered by a Florida Federal District Court to immediately produce documents which it claimed were protected by the Attorney-Client Privilege. This is a case where the Judge essentially told Unum that under ERISA regulations, Unum claims examiners have a greater duty to their own insured rather than their own in-house attorneys.

Unum Disability Lawsuit Case History

The Plaintiff, a former employee for a health management corporation, brought suit pursuant to ERISA, against her former employer, as the administrator of her ERISA governed long-term disability plan (the “Plan”) and Unum Life Insurance Company of America (“Unum”), as a fiduciary of the Plan, for denying her claim to long-term disability benefits.

During the initial stages of the long term disability benefits lawsuit, the Plaintiff and Unum were required, by a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure, to disclose to one another various documents pertaining to the Plaintiff’s claim. Along with its disclosures, Unum produced a Privilege Log, a document which the Federal Rules require be provided to the other party when it refuses to disclose specific documents it claims to be in some way privileged and protected from disclosure. Among the “privileged” items in the log were four documents containing communications made between Unum’s claims personnel and its in-house lawyers prior to Unum’s final decision to deny benefits. Following receipt of the log, the Plaintiff’s attorney sent Unum’s lawyers a letter requesting that they release the documents it was claiming were privileged. Despite the Plaintiff’s letter, Unum continued to maintain its assertion that the documents were privileged and refused to disclose them. The Plaintiff had little choice but to seek the assistance and intervention of the Federal Court in compelling the production of the documents in question.

Motion Filed Compelling Unum To Release Documents

In their motion to compel production and request for an in camera inspection of the documents, the Plaintiff argued, in part, that the documents in question were not protected by the attorney-client privilege since, 1) the documents immediately preceded the transmission of the claim decision and were likely internal evaluations of the actions taken by the claim representative asking for the claim to be reconsidered and paid, thus relating directly to the claims decision, and 2) since Unum is acting in a fiduciary capacity, the fiduciary exception to the attorney-client privilege applied, which meant that Unum’s duty to act in the exclusive interest of the beneficiaries supersedes its right to claim attorney client privilege over the documents.

Federal Court Refuses To Allow Unum To Rely On The Attorney Client Privlege

After hearing arguments by the Plaintiff and Unum and reviewing the documents in question, the Federal Court ordered that all four documents were discoverable because they were part of the claims administration process and concerned action by Unum in its fiduciary capacity in which Unum has a greater duty to its policyholders, than to its own in-house attorneys and claims personnel. The Federal Court ordered Unum to produce for inspection and copy the four documents within ten days of its order. This specific claim was not handled by Attorneys Dell & Schaefer.

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