Hartford ordered to re-evaluate denial of disability benefits

James Linnen, a powerhouse operator for Goodyear, Tire and Rubber Company, was insured under his company’s group disability plan issued by Continental Casualty Company. Mr. Linnen began collecting long-term disability benefits for narcolepsy and cataplexy in 2001. In 2004, Hartford Life and Accident Insurance Company purchased Continental and reviewed Mr. Linnen’s disability status. After the treating physician admitted Mr. Linnen was capable of sedentary work, Hartford terminated Mr. Linnen’s benefits in April 2005. Hartford found alternate occupations Mr. Linnen could perform such as cage boss and order parts clerk. Hartford upheld its decision in appeal and Mr. Linnen sued, seeking benefits under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. (ERISA)

Judge David S. Dowd Jr. of the Northern District of Ohio reviewed Hartford’s decision to terminate benefits and ruled that Hartford used the wrong standard in assessing if Mr. Linnen was entitled to long-term benefits. The policy states the claimant must be unable to “engage in any substantially gainful occupation for which you are, or may reasonably become, qualified by your education, training or experience”. Judge Dowd ruled the term “substantially” alters the definition and Hartford should have assessed whether Mr. Linnen was able to obtain “substantial gainful employment” before terminating benefits. However, if employment is available that pays nearly the same wages and benefits, benefits could possibly be terminated.

See James Linnen v. Hartford Life and Accident Insurance Co., No. 05:06CV0141, N.D. Ohio; 2006 U.S. Dist..

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