Judge Wants Dog-Walking Plaintiff's Benefits Reconsidered

April 1, 2002 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - A federal judge in Illinois overturned a decision by a plan administrator to cut off disability payments to an office clerk after the clerk had been videotaped walking her dog.

US District Judge Suzanne Conlon of the Northern District of Illinois ruled that Hartford Life and Accident Insurance Co.’s tape of Patsy Carugati walking her dog and of her climbing a stepladder didn’t prove she wasn’t disabled with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. Conlon ordered Hartford to reconsider its decision cutting off benefits.

“Carugati’s ability to walk her dog several minutes a day and climb a few rungs of a small step ladder once does not automatically render a conclusion that she was lying or misrepresenting her condition,” Conlon wrote.

Conlon ruled that Hartford’s 1999 decision to stop the benefits was arbitrary. Carugati had been getting payments since 1991 after she was diagnosed and left her job as office clerk and receptionist.
Conlon said that although Hartford’s decision to stop paying benefits was based on its assessment of Carugati’s ability to hold a job, the insurance company never investigated Carugati’s employment potential.

“At the time benefits were terminated, the record was devoid of new medical evidence indicating a significant change in Carugati’s condition,” Conlon wrote.

The case is Carugati v. Long Term Disability Plan for Salaried Employees, N.D. Ill., No. 01 C 5863.