Dentist’s Repetitive Stress Injuries Eligible for Lifetime Disability Benefits Coverage

In order to obtain private disability benefits, you must be able to show that you are unable to perform the duties of your occupation due to symptoms of a medical condition. An important component of your claim is determining whether your condition is related to an injury or sickness. Many private individual policies provide for lifetime benefits if the disability is caused by injury.

We typically think of an “injury” as occurring during an event such as a fall-down or motor vehicle accident. However, that is not necessarily the case. It is common, for example, that professionals such as dentists, physicians, and chiropractors can develop debilitating injuries over time from the repeated physical maneuvers required of their work. We represent many clients who have obtained lifetime disability benefits for such injuries, which can include carpal tunnel syndrome, ulnar nerve entrapment, and serious cervical spinal issues.

An example of this type of case can be seen in Chapman v. Unum Life Ins. Co. of America, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 155798 (D. Minn. August 18, 2021). Dr. Chapman, a practicing endodontist, had become disabled due to degenerative arthritis in her hands. Her condition was caused by the repetitive stress injuries she sustained in her decades-long dental career. The claim forms completed by Dr. Chapman, and the certifications of her treating providers, all indicated that her disability was the result of an injury. Nevertheless, Unum approved her claim as a “sickness” (thus limiting her benefits) because it had not been caused by one specific traumatic event.

The Court disagreed, finding that Dr. Chapman’s disabling arthritic condition was an injury notwithstanding the fact that it had developed gradually. It explained that “in the course of one’s ordinary duties injuries may occur daily which cause minimal damage, the cumulative effect of which in the course of time may be as injurious as a single traumatic event.” In the Court’s view, there was no substantial difference between an injury sustained instantly or over time. Accordingly, there was “no good reason for [injury-based] benefits to be paid in one instance and not in the other.”

The Court placed great weight on the fact that Dr. Chapman and her physicians had documented her claim as an injury from the very beginning. If you are considering submitting a claim for disability benefits, or are currently in the process of doing so, it is imperative that you thoroughly understand the nature of your condition and coordinate with your treating providers to ensure your claim is prepared and presented in the best possible way. While this can be an overwhelming and arduous process, an experienced attorney can help you.

We at Bonny G. Rafel LLC, provide legal counsel to individuals seeking to obtain (or overcome a denial of) long term disability benefits, and advocate for our clients as the Voice of the Disabled.  See our website for video presentations and information on our boutique practice and contact us to discuss your case.


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