Justia ERISA Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Personal Injury
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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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Appellant Margerita Cervantes allegedly contracted hepatitis C as a result of treatment she received at the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada (ECSN). Appellant obtained treatment at ECSN as part of the health care benefits she received through her culinary union. The union operated a self-funded ERISA health care plan and retained Respondents, Health Plan of Nevada and other health and life insurance entities, as its agents to assist in establishing a network of the plan's chosen medical provider. Appellant filed a lawsuit alleging that Respondents were responsible for her injuries because they failed to ensure the quality of care provided by ECSN and referred her to a blatantly unsafe medical provider. The district court concluded that Cervantes' claims were preempted by ERISA section 514(a). The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that state law claims of negligence and negligence per se against a managed care organization contracted by an ERISA plan to facilitate the development of the ERISA plan's network of health care providers were precluded by ERISA section 514. View "Cervantes v. Health Plan of Nevada" on Justia Law

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John Steffens, a beneficiary under an ERISA plan provided by BlueCross, required surgery after an automobile accident. BlueCross paid for a significant portion of Steffens' medical expenses as it was required to do under the Plan. Steffens then sued the other individual in the accident, naming BlueCross as a defendant. Steffens asked for a judgment against BlueCross foreclosing any claim it may have had for subrogation. BlueCross filed a counterclaim against Steffens, alleging it had paid $67,477 on behalf of Stevens and that under the Plan, Steffens was obligated to reimburse BlueCross. The circuit court ordered Steffens to reimburse BlueCross $64,751 plus attorney fees. The court of appeals reversed the circuit court's order and remanded, holding that BlueCross must prove that the surgery-necessitating injuries were related to the accident. The Supreme Court granted review and reversed the judgment of the court of appeals, holding that it was not arbitrary and capricious for the Plan administrator to interpret the Plan and conclude that BlueCross was entitled to reimbursement because the expenses that BlueCross paid arose from an accident for which a third party may have been liable.View "Steffens v. BlueCross BlueShield" on Justia Law