If your long-term disability claim is governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), you are required to pursue an administrative appeal before you can file a lawsuit against the disability insurance carrier and the long-term disability plan. After your appeal rights have been exhausted, the next step would be to file a lawsuit in federal district court against the insurance company and the long-term disability plan. The law that developed since the enactment of ERISA in 1974 established that a denial of benefits challenged under ERISA’S civil enforcement provision must be reviewed under a de novo standard unless the benefit plan expressly gives the plan administrator or fiduciary discretionary authority to determine eligibility for benefits or to construe the plan’s terms. If the plan documents expressly give the plan administrator or fiduciary discretionary authority, the court is required to review your claim using a deferential standard of review.

If you have long-term disability coverage that was obtained through a group plan at work, and depending on which jurisdiction you reside, chances are that the policy grants discretionary authority to the insurance company. This simply means that a federal court reviewing the decision must give deference to the insurance company’s decision applying what is called an “arbitrary and capricious” standard of review. However, many states (i.e., California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, South Dakota, and Texas) have outlawed discretionary authority clauses found in group long-term disability plans.

Under the abuse-of-discretion standard, is it more difficult for a claimant to prevail in court? If the claim is subject to a de novo review, “The court simply proceeds to evaluate whether the plan administrator correctly or incorrectly denied benefits.” (Abatie v. Alta Health & Life Ins. Co. (9th Cir. 2006) 458 F.3d 955, 983.). California enacted Insurance Code §10110.6 effective January 1, 2012, which outlawed discretionary clauses in life, health, and disability plans.

Even if a group disability plan has an effective date before January 1, 2012, the policy insuring the plan will become subject to Insurance Code §10110.6 after renewal on the policy’s annual anniversary date after January 1, 2012.

When the Court utilizes a de novo standard of review, the Court evaluates whether the Plaintiff is disabled within the terms of the plan, and after evaluating the persuasiveness of conflicting evidence, decides which is more likely to be true. Kearney v. Standard Ins. Co., 175 F.3d 1084, 1095 (9th Cir. 1999) (en banc); Muniz v. Amec Const. Management, Inc., 623 F.3d 1290, 1295-96 (9th Cir. 2010).

Under a de novo standard of review, it is the Plaintiff’s burden to prove their disability by a preponderance of evidence. Muniz v. Amec Constr. Mgmt., 623 F.3d 1290, 1294 (9th Cir. 2010). This means it is the Plaintiff’s responsibility to produce evidence demonstrating that the plan administrator incorrectly denied benefits. The evidence must establish that the claimant satisfies the definition of disability in the policy. See Abatie v. Alta Health & Life Ins. Co., 458 F.3d 955, 963 (9th Cir. 2006). Essentially, it is the court’s duty to determine whether or not the evidence supports disability.

If you are dealing with a disability claim that has been denied by an insurance company, contact the Law Offices of Kevin M. Zietz for a free consultation.


Level the Playing Field Against Abusive Insurance Companies

The Law Offices of Kevin M. Zietz to fight back. To schedule a free initial consultation, call our office at 818-981-9200 or contact us online. There are no attorney fees until we win your case.

Skip to content