Court Agrees: Principal Life Correctly Terminated Disability Benefits

In Winkler v. Principal Life Insurance Company, Thomas Winkler, a financial planner, collected 24 months of disability benefits when he was unable to work in his own occupation due to his neuromyelitis optica, also known as Devic’s Syndrome. At the time he became disabled, he was covered by a policy that was later amended to provide a wider, more encompassing, definition of disability. Winkler argued that, in addition to his benefits being wrongfully terminated, he should be covered under the amended policy. The Florida federal district court sided with Principal Life on both issues.

Winkler Was Not Covered by the Amended Policy Terms

Winkler became disabled in 2002 and was granted 24 months of disability benefits due to his inability to work in his own occupation. After 24 months, the definition of disability changed. Meanwhile, in 2003, Principal Life changed the definition of disability that was more favorable to Winkler. He tried to convince the court that the 2003 policy should apply to his case.

Winkler cited to a court decision that held, “an ERISA cause of action based on the denial of benefits accrues at the tie benefits are denied, and the plan in effect when the decision to deny benefits is controlling.” The court said Winkler was wrong. In the case he cited, the claimant had been covered by both policies: the one that was in effect when he became disabled and the later amended one as well.

In Winkler’s case, he would only be covered by the amended policy if, at the time it was amended, he was “a full-time employee” who regularly worked “at least 30 hours a week.” Since Winkler did not fit this definition, he was not covered by this amended policy. For the court to hold that he was, it would be tantamount to the court holding that “one is entitled to benefits under a policy so long as the policy is ‘in effect’ anywhere, any time, and for anyone, even though the individual applying for benefits is not covered by the policy. Such an argument is logically absurd.”

Principal Life Correctly Decided that Winkler Was Not Entitled to Benefits

The definition of disability applicable to Winkler’s claim required him to be unable to perform the material duties of “any occupation” for which he was qualified or could reasonably become qualified based on his “education, training, or experience” and was able to make a certain amount of money in comparison to his earning in his own occupation.

The court upheld Principal Life’s termination of benefits after reviewing all the evidence, including:

  • Winkler’s treating neurologist wrote a letter saying his condition had improved and there were “no restrictions.”
  • Winkler’s treating ophthalmologist reported his double vision had been “resolved.”
  • A Functional Capacity Exam (FCE) indicated Winkler could work a full eight-hour day at a “medium” level. His own occupation required work at a sedentary level which is less strenuous than a medium level.
  • A board-certified neurologist review Winkler’s medical records, the FCE and conferred with his treating physician. Both doctors agreed that Winkler could work in his own occupation as long as he was allowed 15-minute rest periods every two hours.
  • An analysis of his earnings within the parameters of the policy.

The court concluded that, “in the light most favorable to Winkler,” he was not disabled from his own or any occupation.

This case was not handled by our office, but it may be instructive to those who are seeking benefits when the definition of disability changes after 24 months. If you have a question about this case, or any disability benefits issue, call one of our attorneys for a free case evaluation.

Did you find this helpful?
Unhelpful (0)

Resources to Help You Win Disability Benefits

Disability Benefit Denial Options
Submit a Strong Principal Appeal Package

We work with you, your doctors, and other experts to submit a very strong Principal appeal.

Learn more

Sue Principal

We have filed thousands of disability denial lawsuits in federal Courts nationwide against Principal.

Learn more

Protect Your Benefits
Get Your Principal Disability Application Approved
We help claimants throughout the entire application process.

Learn more

Prevent a Principal Disability Benefit Denial
We manage every aspect of your disability claim following claim approval.

Learn more

Negotiate a Principal Lump-Sum Settlement

Our goal is to negotiate the highest possible buyout of your long-term disability policy.

Learn more

Principal Reviews

Policy Holder Rating

1.6 out of 5
Read 16 reviews
0%would recommend
Timely Payments
2.3out of 5
Handling Claim
1.8out of 5
Customer Service
1.8out of 5
2.0out of 5
2.0out of 5
Showing 8 of 648 Reviews

Sorry, Principal. My residual and renewal commissions aren't "earned"

Reviewed by Ron on August 24th 2020   Verified Policyholder
(CAPS are added by me for emphasis:) I am a self-employed insurance broker working only on commissions. I was disabled due to surgeries and received some income replacemen... read more >
Sent on August 24th 2020 by Attorney Rachel Alters

Ron: You certainly can challenge Principal’s interpretation of the various provisions at issue through an appeal, if you have not already.


Principal will do anything not to pay

Reviewed by George on October 7th 2018   Verified Policyholder
Hello, I’m writing this on behalf of my wife. Her vision has degraded to the point that she no longer is able to see a pc screen without extreme headaches within a few m... read more >
Sent on October 7th 2018 by Attorney Gregory Dell

George, it sounds like your wife is a victim to the very common 24-month denial. It is unfortunate that Principal will not accept the opinions of the numerous doctors w... read more >


Principal is absolutely ridiculous. I'm in financial harship after not receibing my full pay from work and exhausting my long term sick

Reviewed by Michelle P. on December 19th 2017   Verified Policyholder
I was placed on medical leave after suffering from vertigo and later diagnosed with Meniere’s Disease. I was put on medication. During these episodes of vertigo, I was n... read more >
Sent on December 19th 2017 by Attorney Stephen Jessup

Michelle, will your ENT complete the applicable Attending Physician’s Statement? The APS will allow the doctor to place all restrictions and limitations he/she is imp... read more >


Principal owes me 60k

Reviewed by Daniel S. on March 15th 2017   Verified Policyholder
I had a lawyer for my long term disability claim but they wouldn’t sue them for me because the company I worked for sent them a letter saying I didn’t work but 3 hrs a... read more >
Sent on March 15th 2017 by Attorney Stephen Jessup

Daniel, we would need to see copies off your denial letters and your policy to determine how we may be able to assist you.


I lost everything when Principal terminated my benefits without calling or emailing me

Reviewed by Ray T. on September 22nd 2016   Verified Policyholder
I went on short term disability August 1st of 2013 I had to get my left thumb total reconstructed. After 6 months of short-term I went on long-term. My company told me I h... read more >
Sent on September 22nd 2016 by Attorney Stephen Jessup

Ray, have you received a formal denial letter denying the benefit? If the initial denial occurred in October 2015, there are concerns as to time expiring to file an adm... read more >


I cant but feel I am being starved out and given the runaround.

Reviewed by Christopher on June 7th 2016   Verified Policyholder
I went off of work may 29, 2015, with a blood clot in my leg. I have had vein surgeries in the past to alleviate pain and discomfort, all of which I took vacation on a Fri... read more >
Sent on June 7th 2016 by Attorney Stephen Jessup

Christopher, I am not sure the reason for the proof of good health- was this from a different department? If the claim is already in appeal review then there would be l... read more >


Principal owes me 4k

Reviewed by Louann W. on April 28th 2016   Verified Policyholder
Purchased short term disability through my employer with this group. I’ve been out of work since 2/29/16. Haven’t received the first pay. Contract is I’m supposed to... read more >
Sent on April 28th 2016 by Attorney Stephen Jessup

Louann, if they uphold the denial of your claim on appeal please feel free to contact our office to discuss what your rights/next steps are. Hopefully they will not nee... read more >


I've never worked with people that are so obviously stalling before. Bunch of crooks

Reviewed by Mike on March 2nd 2016   Verified Policyholder
I have been disabled for over 10 weeks and Principle kept saying the forms incomplete so they needed all the medical records from my doctor, including office notes. After ... read more >
Sent on March 2nd 2016 by Attorney Rachel Alters

Mike, is this a policy you purchased on your own? From what you’re saying it seems that they are investigating to determine whether or not there are grounds to rescin... read more >

Answered Questions by Our Lawyers
Showing 8 of 25 Answered Questions

Q: Can Principal deduct my social security payment from my monthly Principal disability benefit payment?

Answered on March 30th 2023 by Attorney Gregory Dell
A: Does you disability policy say social security retirement is deductible? If it does then they are allowed to d... Read More >

Q: Why did Principal not back me when Social Security did?

Answered on August 21st 2020 by Attorney Alex Palamara
A: Durron, I am sorry to hear that your LTD claim was denied. While there are different standards for approving L... Read More >

Q: What is the difference between time period of the claim while approved and the time period of the claim while denied?

Answered on August 14th 2020 by Attorney Alex Palamara
A: Mark, please gather all the correspondence concerning your claim and please contact us for a free consultation... Read More >

Q: Will Principal harass me if I don't accept their buyout? And, is it standard for a buyout to be lower than the full benefit paid over time?

Answered on July 17th 2018 by Attorney Stephen Jessup
A: Jan, I have not experienced retaliatory actions form Principal for refusing a buyout offer. As to your second ... Read More >

Q: Can Principal's independent physician determine what I can and cannot do?

Answered on April 30th 2019 by Attorney Cesar Gavidia
A: APC, it is difficult to know what they courts would do or how they would weigh the opinion of Principal’s co... Read More >

Q: Do I have to pay Principal back once I receive back pay from SSA?

Answered on October 5th 2017 by Attorney Stephen Jessup
A: Toni, if your policy was an employer provided policy then almost certainly the policy would contain language t... Read More >

Q: Can Principal take away my deceased husband's 3 month survivor benefit? They justified it saying he was eligible for SSDI when he didn't even apply.

Answered on June 1st 2017 by Attorney Stephen Jessup
A: Michele, I am sorry to hear of your loss. We would need to see a copy of the disability policy to determine an... Read More >
Helpful Videos
Showing 12 of 896 Videos
Disability Benefit Tips
Showing 8 of 331 Benefit Tips

Principal Disability Benefit Denial Options

If you've recently received a disability insurance denial letter from Principal Disability or are worried that your claim for long term disability benefits is about to be denied, you may be wondering about your next steps. Here at Dell & Schaefer, we've helped thousands of disability claimants overcome an initial denial to eventually secure the long term disability insurance benefits they deserve. Learn mo... Read More >

Stephen Jessup and Gregory Dell discuss their experience in handling claims with Principal Financial

Principal Financial is one of the more interesting disability insurance companies to deal with. They sell both individual disability and ERISA group disability policies. Our disability insurance lawyers have helped hundreds of Principal Financial policy holders at all stages of their short or long term disability claims.In this video, nationwide disability i... Read More >

Why Must Your Disability Insurance Lawyer Understand Your Disabling Condition?

When it comes to securing your disability insurance benefits, it's vitally important that your disability insurance lawyer thoroughly understands the symptoms and impact of your disabling condition. Doctors can help you create strong medical records, but they're not accustomed to dealing with the rigorous documentation disability insurance companies require. Lea... Read More >

Disability Benefit Denial Reason #5 – Your Medical Evidence is Weak

If you're seeking long term disability benefits from an insurance company, you may be concerned that you're facing an uphill battle. Fortunately, the stronger your medical evidence, the greater the odds that your claim will be approved. On the other side of the coin, one of the most common reasons for denial of long term disability benefits involves too-weak med... Read More >

Disability Benefit Denial Reason #4 - Your Doctor Is Misled By the Disability Company

When you're seeking disability insurance benefits, your medical records and treating physician's statement are two of the most important components of your claim. But because the insurance company has a vested interest in denying your disability insurance claim, it often will rely on tactics like ambushing your doctor with a phone call in an attempt to get them ... Read More >

Disability Benefit Denial Reason #3 - Video & Social Media Surveillance

One thing many disability insurance claimants don't know about (or expect) from the claims review process involves video and social media surveillance. Disability insurance carriers often hire people to follow claimants around with a telephoto lens - or even send social media friend requests from fake accounts - to glean whatever information they can about the c... Read More >

How Do You Fight a Long-Term Disability Denial?

Getting a denial letter from your disability insurance company is one of the ultimate insults. You are sick and not able to work, yet your disability insurance company is telling you to return to work. The disability insurance company has denied your disability benefit claim and is basically calling you a liar. When receiving a disability denial letter... Read More >

Disability Denial Reason #2 - Change of Disability Definition & Vocational Review

One of the top reasons for terminating a claimant's long term disability benefits involves the change in the disability insurance policy's definition of "disability." This definition change often happens in conjunction with a vocational review, or an analysis of a claimant's medical records that tells the insurance company which jobs the claimant should be able ... Read More >
Dell Disability Cases
Showing 8 of 375 Dell Disability Cases

After Principal Denies Continued Disability Benefits, Attorney Alexander Palamara Gets Claim Reinstated for a Vienna Beef Employee

Our new client was a dedicate employee of Vienna Beef who worked as a Customer Service Representative (a sedentary occupation) since August 2013. He was a dedicated employee as she enjoyed the job and loved her employer. Unfortunately for our now client, medical issues seemed to be piling up and they began to affect her ability to perform the duties of her own occupation.The Former Customer Service Re... Read More >

Principal reinstates benefits of Orthopedic Surgeon unable to work full-time after Attorney Rachel Alters submits Appeal

Dr. S is 47-year-old left hand dominant Orthopedic Surgeon who was forced to stop working full-time effective May 2, 2016, due to progressively worsening left arm pain which significantly impacted his ability to perform the material and substantial duties of his occupation on a sustained basis. He has a well-documented history of degenerative disc disease, spondylosis with C5-6 neuroforaminal stenosis, and C6 ... Read More >

Dell Disability Lawyers Successfully Appeals Denial Of Benefits To Claimant With Trigeminal Neuralgia

Ms. R contacted our firm after her claim for Long Term Disability (“LTD”) benefits was denied by Principal Life Insurance Company.Before becoming disabled, Ms. R worked as a Litigation Support Assistant for a large, busy law firm. Ms. R had been experiencing head pain for several years with the symptoms first appearing in August 2012 and gradually worsening over time. In July 2015 her symptoms became s... Read More >

Administrative Appeal by Dell Disability Lawyers forces Principal to Reinstate ERISA Long Term Disability Claim of Former Healthways, Inc. Employee

After being forced to stop working in 2007 due to various disabling conditions, an employee of Healthways, Inc., who was employed as a Member Care Manager, filed for Long Term Disability Benefits under a policy provided by her employer that was through the Principal Life Insurance Company.Shortly after applying for LTD benefits, by way of an approval letter dated October 23, 2007, Principal agreed that the... Read More >

Principal Approves Long Term Disability Benefits for Surgeon

Our client was a highly successful Podiatric Surgeon who was suffering from severe neck pain due to two crushed cervical facet joints with resultant nerve impingement. Despite his best efforts to continue to work in his capacity as a surgeon the pain and associated numbness and weakness was making it increasingly difficult to effectively examine and treat his patients. The pain became so severe and his concern... Read More >

Seven Surgeries and The Standard Still Denies Disability Insurance Benefits

Our client was employed with the State of Oregon as a Technical Support Representative. She sought disability through her employer provider LTD Policy with Standard due to low back, hip, and lower extremity pain. She had two hip, two knee and three back surgeries.After paying her for 1.5 years Standard hired a board-certified neurologist to perform a review ... Read More >

Sun Life Wrongfully Denies Disability After Paying For 23 Months

We represent a 57 year-old claimant who’s occupation was selling commercial vehicles for many years.  Her job was very physical as it required her to climb in and out of semi-trucks multiple times a day as well as operate them which was very strenuous. She went out of work in due to ongoing and severe debilitating right hip, low back, and bilateral knee pain... Read More >

Nurse Denied Long-term Disability Benefits by Lincoln After the Definition of Disability Changed

Our client, a registered nurse for Dignity Health, found herself in a difficult situation after being diagnosed with lumbar spondylosis and left knee arthritis. She continued to work, however, struggled while attempting to work through chronic lower back pain and left lower extremity radicular symptoms on a daily basis. Sadly, her condition failed to improve and... Read More >
Disability Lawsuit Stories
Showing 8 of 765 Lawsuit Stories

Court Orders Principal Life to Pay Long-Term Disability Benefits to Plaintiff

In Craig Robertson v. Principal Life Insurance Company, Plaintiff, a National Account Sales Manager with XPO Logistics in Phoenix, Arizona, became disabled in July 2016 after severely injuring his left foot. His request for short-term disability benefits was granted. In October 2016 he filed a claim for long-term disability (LTD) benefits, but in November 2017, that claim was denied.Plaintiff arg... Read More >

Court Orders Principal Life to Reinstate Long Term Disability Benefits

Flaaen v. Principal Life Insurance Company, is a win for the claimant who suffered a severe back injury in August 2005 in his job as a truck driver. In January 2006, Principal granted his application for long term disability benefits since he could no longer perform the regular and substantial duties of his own occupation.On December 14, 2014, Principal terminated Flaaen’s disability benefits on the grou... Read More >

Principal Life Disability Denial of Truck Driver Reversed by Washington Federal Judge

This is an interesting long term disability benefit case that was litigated in the Washington Federal Court against Principal Life insurance. As we see with a lot of ERISA disability lawsuits, the insurance company denies a claimant’s long term disability claim when the definition of disability changes from OWN OCCUPATION to ANY OCCUPATION. In this case, Princ... Read More >

Court Upholds Principal Life's Denial of Extended Disability Benefits

In Peterson v. Principal Financial Group, plaintiff injured her back in a car accident and subsequently underwent a spinal fusion. She was awarded 24 months of disability when she was unable to return to her own occupation as a Target employee. After 24 months, the definition of disability changed to requiring her to be disabled from any job "that provides 128% or more of the disability benefit." Principal ref... Read More >

Court Agrees: Principal Life Correctly Terminated Disability Benefits

In Winkler v. Principal Life Insurance Company, Thomas Winkler, a financial planner, collected 24 months of disability benefits when he was unable to work in his own occupation due to his neuromyelitis optica, also known as Devic's Syndrome. At the time he became disabled, he was covered by a policy that was later amended to provide a wider, more encompassing, definition of disability. Winkler argued that, in ... Read More >

Federal Court Orders Principal Life Insurance Company to Pay Disability Benefits

In Zorn v. Principal Life Insurance Company, the plaintiff, a member of the National Association of Professional Insurance Agents, obtained insurance provided to the association by Principal Life Insurance Company (PLIC). The policy provided for five years of benefits for those disabled from their own occupation. After that time, the definition of disability changed and insureds were then considered disabled o... Read More >

Objective versus Subjective: Evidence Requirements in ERISA Disability Lawsuits

It is common when dealing with claims for short and long term disability benefits to have the disability insurance company request "objective evidence" to support your claim that you are disabled due to a certain impairment. If your impairment, for example, involves a neck or back condition, then a MRI or a CT scan revealing herniated discs or some similar pathology, would easily be considered "objective evide... Read More >

Principal Life denies disability benefits to a physician and then seeks attorney fees after physician's disability denial is affirmed by Texas Judge

Dr. Bruce Leipzig had been denied long-term disability benefits by Principal Life Insurance Company, and brought his ERISA case before the District Court covering the northern part of Texas. After hearing the case, the Court issued summary judgment in favor of the disability insurance company.The District Court, however, refused to consider Principal Life's request for attorney's fees, even though the phys... Read More >

Reviews from Our Clients

Request a Free Consultation

Our Lawyers Respond Same Day

5 Ways We Help Get Your Benefits Paid

Get Your Disability Application Approved

Our goal is to get your application for disability income benefits approved. Applying for disability insurance benefits can be a difficult process and the information you provide is critical. Most disability insurance companies look at your application in hopes of finding a reason to deny your claim. Your disability company will ask you to complete numerous forms, interview you, request lots of information, speak with your doctors and possibly request to have you examined by their "hired gun" doctor.

Through our experience of having helped thousands of disability insurance claimants, our disability insurance lawyers will guide you through the entire application process and give you the best chance to get your disability claim approved the first time.

Submit A Strong Appeal Package

If your disability insurance benefits have been wrongfully denied, then our disability insurance lawyers know exactly what it takes to get your disability claim approved. You only get once chance to submit an Appeal, therefore every piece of evidence that will support your disability claim must be included. The goal is to win your disability benefits at the Appeal level, but while preparing your Appeal you must consider how a federal judge will review your disability claim if your benefit denial is upheld.

Preparing a strong disability appeal package is an art that requires you to understand how the courts interpret your disability policy language, ERISA regulations / laws, and how to strategically present evidence in support of your definition of "disability". We encourage you to contact any of our attorneys for a free immediate review of your disability denial.

Sue Your Disability Company

98% of the disability insurance lawsuits filed by our law firm have resulted in either the payment of benefits or a lump-sum settlement agreement. Our disability insurance attorneys have filed ERISA governed and private policy long term disability insurance lawsuits against every major disability insurance company in state and federal courts nationwide and we love fighting for the "little guy" against the multi-billion dollar insurance company giants.

We have recovered hundreds of millions of dollars for our clients and we would like the opportunity to provide you with a free review of your disability benefit denial. There are many complex factors in a disability benefit lawsuit and the legal battle to win long term disability benefits can be fierce.

Prevent A Disability Benefit Denial

Approval of long-term disability is a continuous process as every disability insurance company will evaluate your eligibility for benefits on a monthly basis. You can never let your guard down and assume that your disability company will continue to pay your benefits for as long as you think you need them.

Our disability insurance law firm offers a reasonable flat fee monthly claim handling service in which we handle every aspect of your long-term disability claim and do whatever it takes to make sure you are paid every month.

Negotiate a Lump-Sum Settlement

Let's discuss if a lump-sum settlement or buyout of your disability insurance claim is both available and makes financial sense for you. Our disability insurance lawyers have negotiated more than five-hundred million dollars in disability insurance buyouts and we know how to get you a maximum settlement. A disability insurance company is not required to offer a buyout and not every disability company offers them.

Questions About Hiring Us

Who are Dell Disability Lawyers?

We are disability insurance attorneys that know how to get your short or long term disability benefits paid. As a nationwide law firm we have helped thousands of disability insurance claimants throughout the United States to collect hundreds of millions of dollars of disability insurance benefits from every major disability insurance company.

In more than 98% of our cases, our attorneys have been able to either get our clients paid monthly disability benefits or obtain a one-time lump-sum settlement. Our disability insurance lawyers have seen it all when it comes to disability insurance claims and we know exactly what it takes for your disability claim to be approved.

We offer disability insurance attorney representation nationwide and we welcome you to contact any of our lawyers for a free immediate review of your disability claim. We also invite you to visit and subscribe to our YouTube channel where we have more than 850 videos and regularly provide tips to help protect your disability benefits.

Who do you help?

Our disability insurance attorneys help individuals that have either purchased a long term disability insurance policy from an insurance company or obtained short or long term disability insurance coverage as a benefit from their employer. We have helped individuals in almost every type of occupation with monthly disability benefit payments ranging from $1,500 to $50,000.

Our clients include all types of employees ranging from retail associates, sales representatives, government employees, police officers, teachers, janitors, nurses, pilots, truck drivers, financial advisors, doctors, dentists, veterinarians, lawyers, consultants, IT professionals, engineers, professional athletes, business owners, and high level executives.

A strong understanding and presentation of the duties of your occupation is essential for securing disability insurance benefits.

Do you work in my state?

Yes. We are a national disability insurance law firm that is available to represent you regardless of where you live in the United States. We have partner lawyers in every state and we have filed lawsuits in most federal courts nationwide. Our disability insurance lawyers represent disability claimants at all stages of a claim for disability insurance benefits. There is nothing that our lawyers have not seen in the disability insurance world.

What are your fees?

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.

Do I have to come to your office to work with your law firm?

No. For purposes of efficiency and to reduce expenses for our clients we have found that 99% of our clients prefer to communicate via phone, email, fax, or video conferencing sessions. 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.

How can I contact you?

When you call us during normal business hours you will immediately speak with a disability insurance attorney. We can be reached at 800-698-9159 or by email. Lawyers 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.

Helpful Resources