Judge: Employee Can't Sue For COBRA Non-Payment 'Distress'

July 18, 2003 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - A woman who sued her employer for not keeping up her COBRA health insurance coverage even though she sent in the required payments can't also collect for the "emotional distress" caused by the dispute, a federal judge has ruled.

>According to a report in EBIA Weekly, the plaintiff’s coverage was eventually terminated. She alleged in her suit that her employer didn’t send in four months worth of payments, a failure, which she claimed caused her “emotional and mental distress from subsequent billing problems.”

>The judge in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri threw out the plaintiff’s claims for emotional distress and punitive and compensatory damages. Noting that COBRA is enforced under the “exclusive ERISA civil enforcement remedies” contained in ERISA Section 502, the court ruled that extra-contractual damages (i.e., damages “other than the payment of benefits owed under a plan”) are not available under ERISA for a violation of COBRA.

The case is Habib-Stevens v. Trans States Airlines, Inc., No. 4:02CV328-DJS (E.D.Mo. June 26, 2003).