Ex-Trial Attorney Wins Disability Appeal

June 22, 2004 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - A former trial lawyer at a Cincinnati law firm has won an important victory in her court battle for long-term disability (LTD) payments in a federal appeals court.

The U.S. 6 th  Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a ruling by a lower court judge that Unum Life Insurance Company of America improperly withheld LTD benefits from plaintiff Joan Heffernan. The trial court ordered the insurance carrier to make the payments to Heffernan and awarded her attorneys fees.

According to the appeals court’s ruling, Heffernan joined law firm Taft, Stettinius & Hollister in 1988. Heffernan took time off between late 1991 and March 1992 to give birth and worked at the firm without incident for about a year.

Starting in mid-1993, Heffernan said she was afflicted with a series of “spells” that left her feeling hot, being unable to concentrate, exhausted and depressed. She received medical attention and then left the firm in November 1994. Heffernan received short-term disability and in May 1995 applied for LTD.

In February 1996, Unum denied the LTD claim, asserting that Heffernan’s problems were with her particular job rather than being more general and the cause for her not being able to perform as a trial lawyer.   Unum, the appeals court ruled, “must accept the notion that if Heffernan’s psychological constitution makes her vulnerable to the distress inherent in a litigation practice, her resulting disability falls within the scope of coverage as defined in Unum’s policy.”