The disabled must navigate the maze of insurers’ roadblocks to maintain their disability benefits often when they are too ill to tend to the demands of the insurers. Insurers aggressively find ways to deny the payment of bona fide disability claims. Over a decade ago, the Supreme Court recognized that insurers have an incentive to hold onto the benefit dollars they owe to claimants because it clearly improves the company’s finances. Insurance companies have what is referred to as a structural “conflict of interest when a plan administrator both determines eligibility for benefits and pays benefits claims.” Metro. Life Ins. Co. v. Glenn, 554 U.S. 105, 128 S. Ct. 2343, 171 L.Ed.2d 299 (2008).
A common thread in disability denials is the company’s decision that the insured can perform “sedentary work” despite their restrictions and limitations. Sedentary work, simply considers the physical condition of the person- can they sit most of the time, and walk or stand for brief periods of time. The DOT definition for sedentary work conveniently focuses exclusively on the physical demands and disregards any other aspect such as cognitive.
In Smith v Reliance, Reliance paid LTD benefits out for several years to an executive who had strokes and suffered from heart problems. Reliance then reversed course and concluded Mr. Smith could return to work, alleging he had to prove that he could not perform sedentary work due to a physical limitation on, for example, sitting, typing, or speaking. The court disagreed, holding that if someone had to prove they could not sit, speak or type, in order to receive disability benefits, “such a rule would erase disability eligibility for all but the bedridden. Some serious diseases are debilitating because of their effect on the mind or because they worsen with stress.” Smith v. Reliance Standard Life Ins. Co., 2019 U.S. App. LEXIS 18518, at *14 (4th Cir. June 20, 2019)