In interpreting the plan, the court said the date of onset of the disability was irrelevant as to when the participant became disabled within the meaning of the plan, BNA reports.
Daniel Johnson played professional football from 1982 until 1988, when a back injury ended his career. Though he had surgery, his condition degenerated, and he applied for disability benefits from the plan in 2000, according to the court.
Conflicting medical valuations from two plan-appointed physicians and Johnson’s own physician resulting in benefit claims and appeals being denied for Johnson. Finally, after the valuation by a third doctor referred by the plan, Johnson was granted benefits in 2003.
Upon reviewing evidence, the plan’s administrative committee determined that the result of a physician’s evaluation in July 2002 was the earliest indication of total and permanent disability within the meaning of the plan, so benefits were awarded retroactively to August 1, 2002.
The court agreed with the committee that no substantial evidence to Johnson’s total and permanent disability existed prior to that, and that Johnson failed to prove otherwise.
The case is Johnson v. Bert Bell/Pete Rozelle NFL Player Retirement Plan, D. Minn., No. 05-392 (DSD/SRN), 1/10/06.