Justia ERISA Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Personal Injury
Patterson v. United Healthcare Insurance Co.
United provided Patterson's medical insurance under a plan subject to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1101. Patterson received a summary plan description, an ERISA-mandated synopsis of important plan terms but was not given a plan document with all of a plan’s governing language. The summary said that if a beneficiary recovered from a third party for an insured incident, the plan had a right to reimbursement. Patterson was injured in a traffic accident. United covered his medical expenses and notified Patterson it would invoke the reimbursement right. Patterson sued the other driver in state court and joined the plan, seeking a declaratory judgment that it had no reimbursement right. United’s lawyers claimed that no plan document existed. Patterson recovered and settled with the plan for $25,000. Months later, Patterson’s wife suffered injuries in another traffic accident. United paid her medical expenses. Patterson’s wife sued the driver in state court. She obtained a declaratory judgment after the plan's lawyers produced a plan document, stating that it took precedence over the summary and not including a reimbursement right.Patterson then filed a purported class action under ERISA, seeking the return of the $25,000. The district court dismissed the complaint. The Sixth Circuit affirmed in part. Patterson had standing to sue only on his own behalf but has cognizable claims for breach of fiduciary duty and engagement in prohibited transactions. View "Patterson v. United Healthcare Insurance Co." on Justia Law
Knolmayer, et al. v. McCollum
This case presented the questions of whether and how Alaska Statute 09.55.548(b) applied when the claimant’s losses were compensated by an employer’s self-funded health benefit plan governed by the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). The Alaska Supreme Court concluded that an ERISA plan did not fall within the statute’s “federal program” exception. Therefore AS 09.55.548(b) required a claimant’s damages award to be reduced by the amount of compensation received from an ERISA plan. But the Supreme Court also concluded that the distinction the statute draws between different types of medical malpractice claimants was not fairly and substantially related to the statute’s purpose of ensuring claimants do not receive a double recovery — an award of damages predicated on losses that were already compensated by a collateral source. "Because insurance contracts commonly require the insured to repay the insurer using the proceeds of any tort recovery, claimants with health insurance are scarcely more likely to receive a double recovery than other malpractice claimants. The statute therefore violates the equal protection guarantee of the Alaska Constitution." View "Knolmayer, et al. v. McCollum" on Justia Law
SCOTT WOLF V. INS. CO. OF N. AMERICA
Plaintiff's son died in a single-vehicle collision. At the time, he was intoxicated and driving the wrong way on a one-way road. The accidental death and dismemberment insurance policy obtained from defendant Life Insurance Company of North America (LINA) by the plaintiff via his employer paid benefits for a “Covered Accident,” defined as “[a] sudden, unforeseeable, external event that results, directly and independently of all other causes.”Applying the Padfield test, Padfield v. AIG Life Ins. Co., 290 F.3d 1121 (9th Cir. 2002), the son’s death was an “accident” because, while the facts demonstrated that the son engaged in reckless conduct, the record did not show that his death was “substantially certain” to result from that conduct. Thus, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's finding. View "SCOTT WOLF V. INS. CO. OF N. AMERICA" on Justia Law
Fulkerson v. Unum Life Insurance Co. of America
Tymoc died in a single-car accident. At the time of the accident, Tymoc was traveling between 80-100 miles per hour; the speed limit was 60 miles per hour speed. As Tymoc attempted to pass multiple cars, the gap between a car in the right lane and a box truck in the left lane closed. Tymoc veered to the right, causing his vehicle to drive off the road, roll down an embankment, striking multiple trees, and flip over several times.Through his employer, Tymoc was covered by Unum life insurance; the policy provided both basic life insurance coverage and an additional accidental death benefit. Unum approved a $100,000 payment of group life insurance benefits but withheld $100,000 in accidental death benefits, explaining that Tymoc’s conduct—speeding and reckless driving—caused his death, thereby triggering the policy’s crime exclusion. In a suit under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, 29 U.S.C. 1001– 1191d, the district court entered in Fulkerson’s favor as to the accidental death benefits. The Sixth Circuit reversed. Reckless driving falls within the unambiguous plain meaning of crime. View "Fulkerson v. Unum Life Insurance Co. of America" on Justia Law
Vercellino v. Optum Insight, Inc.
In 2013, Vercellino was injured in an accident while riding on an ATV operated by his friend, Kenney. Both were minors. Vercellino was a covered dependent on his mother’s insurance plan. The plan is self-funded, so ERISA, 29 U.S.C. 1001, preempted state law. The Insurer paid nearly $600,000 in medical expenses and did not exercise its right to seek recovery in subrogation from Kenney or Kenney’s parents during the applicable statutory period, nor did Vercellino’s mother ever file suit to recover medical expenses from the Kenneys. In 2019, Vercellino, then an adult, filed suit against the Kenneys seeking general damages and sought declaratory judgment that the Insurer would have no right of reimbursement from any proceeds recovered in that litigation. The Insurer counterclaimed, seeking declaratory judgment that it would be entitled to recover up to the full amount it paid for Vercellino’s medical expenses from any judgment or settlement Vercellino obtained.The Eighth Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the Insurer. The plain language of the plan at issue here is unambiguous: the Insurer is entitled to seek reimbursement for medical expenses arising out of the ATV accident paid on Vercellino’s behalf from any judgment or settlement he receives in his litigation with Kenney. View "Vercellino v. Optum Insight, Inc." on Justia Law
Hendrix v. United Healthcare Insurance Company of the River Valley
Kathleen Hendrix ("Hendrix"), as administratrix of the estate of Kenneth Morris Hendrix, deceased, appeals a circuit court judgment dismissing Hendrix's medical-malpractice wrongful-death claim against United Healthcare Insurance Company of the River Valley ("United"). Kenneth, who was covered by a health-insurance policy issued by United, died after United refused to pay for a course of medical treatment recommended by Kenneth's treating physician. The trial court determined that Hendrix's claim was preempted by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA"), because the claim "relate[s] to" the ERISA-governed employee-benefit plan pursuant to which United had issued Kenneth's health-insurance policy. In October 2015, Kenneth was injured in an automobile accident. His physician recommended Kenneth be admitted to an inpatient-rehabilitation facility. Hendrix claimed United "imposed itself as [Kenneth's] health care provider, took control of [Kenneth's] medical care, and made a medical treatment decision that [Kenneth] should not receive further treatment, rehabilitation, and care at an inpatient facility." Instead, Hendrix contended United made the decision Kenneth should have been discharged to his home to receive a lower quality of care than had been ordered by his physicians. Kenneth died on October 25, 2015, due to a pulmonary thromboembolism, which, the complaint asserts, would not have occurred had United approved inpatient rehabilitation. The Alabama Supreme Court concurred with the circuit court that Hendrix's claim related to an ERISA-governed benefit plan, and thus preempted by the ERISA statute. View "Hendrix v. United Healthcare Insurance Company of the River Valley" on Justia Law
Arruda v. Zurich American Insurance Co.
In this insurance dispute, the First Circuit directed entry of summary judgment for Zurich American Insurance Company, holding that Zurich's decision to deny the insured's claim was supported by substantial evidence.Denise Arruda filed a claim for death benefits following the death of her husband, Joseph Arruda, in a car accident. Zurich denied the claim, concluding that Joseph's death was not within the coverage clause of the policy because the death was not independent of all other causes and that it was caused or contributed to by his pre-existing health conditions. Denise brought this action under 29 U.S.C. 1132(a)(1)(B) alleging that Zurich violated ERISA by denying the insurance benefits. The district court entered summary judgment in favor of Denise, concluding that substantial evidence did not support Zurich's decision. The First Circuit reversed, holding that Zurich's conclusion that Joseph's death was caused or contributed to by pre-existing medical conditions was not arbitrary or capricious and was supported by substantial evidence. View "Arruda v. Zurich American Insurance Co." on Justia Law
Van Steen v. Life Insurance Company N.A.
Life Insurance Company of North America’s terminated plaintiff-appellant Carl Van Steen’s long-term disability benefits under Lockheed Martin’s ERISA Plan. Life Insurance Company of North America (LINA) appealed the district court’s finding that its decision to terminate Van Steen’s benefits was arbitrary and capricious. Van Steen, in turn, appealed the district court’s denial of his attorney’s fees request. Van Steen was physically assaulted during an altercation while walking his dog. The assault resulted in a mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) that impacted Van Steen’s cognitive abilities that prevented him from returning to full time work; Van Steen was eventually allowed to return to part-time work on a daily basis roughly six weeks later. Even on a part-time schedule, Van Steen experienced cognitive fatigue and headaches that required him to frequently rest. Due to his inability to stay organized and keep track of deadlines after the assault, Van Steen received poor feedback on his job performance. Van Steen’s claim for partial long-term disability benefits was approved on March 30, 2012. Roughly a year later, LINA reviewed Van Steen’s file, contacted his doctors, and confirmed that Van Steen’s condition and restrictions were permanent as he was “not likely to improve.” Despite this prognosis, LINA sent Van Steen a letter one week later terminating his long-term disability benefits, explaining that “the medical documentation on file does not continue to support the current restrictions and limitations to preclude you from resuming a full-time work schedule.” Having exhausted his administrative appeals under the Plan, Van Steen next sought relief before the district court. The district court reversed LINA’s decision to terminate Van Steen’s partial long-term disability benefits on the grounds that it was arbitrary and capricious, but denied Van Steen’s request for attorney’s fees. The Tenth Circuit agreed with the district court’s reversal of LINA’s decision to terminate Van Steen’s coverage. The Court also found that Van Steen was not eligible for attorney fees: “Van Steen’s arguments fail to convince us that the district court’s decision was based on a clear error of judgment or exceeded the bounds of permissible choice.” View "Van Steen v. Life Insurance Company N.A." on Justia Law
Tex. W. Oaks Hosp., LP v. Williams
At issue in this interlocutory appeal was whether the claims of an employee against his employer, both of whom were health care providers, alleging injuries arising out of inadequate training, supervision, risk-mitigation, and safety in a mental health facility, constituted health care liability claims (HCLCs) under the Texas Medical Liability Act (Act). Employer filed a motion to dismiss on the grounds that Employee's claims constituted HCLCs under the Act and that Employee had not served an expert report on Employer as required under the Act. The trial court denied Employer's motion. The trial court affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) Employee here was properly characterized as a "claimant" under the Act and his allegations against his nonsubscribing Employer were health care and safety claims under the Act's definition of HCLCs, requiring an expert report to maintain his lawsuit; and (2) the Act does not conflict with the Texas Workers' Compensation Act. Remanded.View "Tex. W. Oaks Hosp., LP v. Williams " on Justia Law
Munda v. Summerlin Life & Health Ins. Co.
Respondent, an insurer/managed care organization, contracted with an endoscopy center and gastroenterology center (collectively, the Clinic) to provide health care services to its insureds. After the Nevada Health District found that the Clinic engaged in a number of unsafe medical practices, Respondent terminated its contract with the Clinic. Janice Munda was insured by Respondent through her employer's health plan, which was governed by ERISA. Munda was diagnosed with hepatitis C, which the Health District determined she contracted as a result of being treated at the Clinic. Janise and her husband (collectively, Appellants) sued Respondent for negligence, negligence per se, breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and loss of consortium. The district court granted Respondent's motion to dismiss, finding that Appellants' claims were preempted by ERISA. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that under the facts, there was no preemption because Respondent's alleged actions were independent of the administration of the ERISA plan. View "Munda v. Summerlin Life & Health Ins. Co." on Justia Law