PR Judge Remands LTD Case to State Court

April 7, 2005 ( - A Puerto Rico federal judge has sent back to state court a lawsuit by a worker who claimed employees of his employer's long term disability (LTD) provider inflicted emotional distress on him by being unduly harsh in a benefits interview.

US District Judge Hector Laffitte ordered the lawsuit by plaintiff Herminio Valentin Munoz returned to a state court after ruling that Munoz had no grounds to argue his claims were pre-empted by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), according to BNA. Those allegations would only be properly tried in federal court if he were seeking to recover benefits due to Munoz, enforce his rights, or clarify his rights to future benefits under the terms of the plan, Laffitte said.

>According to court documents, Munoz was a beneficiary of a long-term disability benefit plan provided by his former employer, Island Finance Corp., and administered by Hartford Life and Accident Insurance Co. Munoz alleged that during an interview evaluating his continuing entitlement to benefits, Hartford Life employees knew of his mental and emotional disorders and intentionally and/or negligently inflicted severe distress upon Munoz through their interviewing techniques.

According to the suit, Munoz also alleged that he suffered a nervous breakdown and fainted during the interview and that after the interview his mental health further declined. Munoz sued Island Finance and Hartford Life in state court seeking damages for physical injuries and mental anguish. Hartford Life had the case to federal district court as preempted by ERISA – a move that was ultimately overturned by the court.

The case is Valentin Munoz v. Island Finance Corp., D. P.R., No. 04-1587 (HL), 3/28/05).