Disability Finding in Sick Building Case Upheld

April 3, 2007 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - A Denver attorney whose office building apparently made her sick was entitled to disability payments, an appellate court has ruled.

The 10 th  U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a ruling by U.S. District Judge William F. Downes of the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado that attorney Pamela Ray’s headaches, congestion and fatigue disabled her from her work in complex real estate transactions.

In writing for the court, Circuit Judge Mary Beck Bricoe said the record showed that Ray could not work from home or a remote location because her practice was not easily transferable to another firm and equivalent employment would be very difficult to find. Even if she could locate another job, Briscoe asserted, it would most likely be in a large office building because her practice required the resources of a large firm.

Bricoe found  Downes did not err in holding that working in a large office building was a material duty of Ray’s occupation, and thus she was disabled from performing her job as a real estate attorney.

According to court documents, Ray was a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher specializing in major real estate deals and oil, gas, and mining transactions. She was a participant in a long-term disability benefit plan administered by UNUM Life Insurance Co. of America. In 1993, the court documents said Ray began to experience symptoms including cough, dizziness, fatigue, sinus pressure and pain, and chest congestion.

A year later, Ray filed a claim for benefits listing severe fatigue, headaches, dizziness, chest pain, and allergic reactions to chemicals as preventing her from working. UNUM turned the claim away, insisting the Ray was not disabled under the provisions of the plan – a decision prompting Ray to sue.

The 10 th Circuit ruling in Ray v. UNUM Life Insurance Co., 10th Cir., No. 05-1284, unpublished 3/28/07, is  here .