Cases

Precedent-Setting Cases Won By DeBofsky, Sherman & Casciari, PC

These are just a few examples of the many court victories won by DeBofsky, Sherman & Casciari, PC:

Prather v. Sun Life

On December 13, 2016, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit issued a ruling in the case of Prather v. Sun Life. The case, which involved a claim for accidental death insurance benefits, overturned a lower court ruling denying Lee Ann Prather's claim and ordered Sun Life to pay the full amount of benefits claimed. The court found that Sun Life lacked any evidence supporting its decision and ruled that Jeremy Prather's untilmely death constituted an "accident" under the terms of the policy.

DeBofsky, Sherman & Casciari, PC Wins Disability Benefits Dispute in Court of Appeals

On July 27, 2016, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit handed down a decision in the case of Berg v. New York Life Ins. Co. reversing an adverse judgment in the district court against DeBofsky, Sherman & Casciari, PC’ client, Eric Berg. The court of appeals found in Berg’s favor on two significant issues: First, the court ruled that a claimant for disability benefits did not have to be under a doctor’s care for the claimed disabling condition as of the date the claim arose. The court found the policy lacked such a temporal requirement and that its terminology was ambiguous on the issue. Second, the court found that if the insured is unemployed when he submits a claim, his "regular job" is the occupation that was last performed, not the so-called occupation of "unemployed person."

This ruling is significant on both issues and will no doubt be cited frequently in future litigation involving disability benefits.

Fontaine v. Metropolitan Life Insurance Company

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit upheld the Illinois ban on discretionary clauses in health and disability insurance policies against an ERISA preemption challenge.

Stevens v. Santander

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit dismissed an appeal from a successful challenge to an ERISA benefit denial based on lack of a final and appealable order.

Cheney v. Standard Insurance Company (United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinoise)

On August 28, 2014, Magistrate Judge Susan Cox issued a ruling in favor of DeBofsky, Sherman & Casciari, PC client, Carole Cheney, in a disability benefit claim brought against Standard Insurance Company. Cheney, an attorney for the law firm of Kirkland & Ellis, alleged that she became disabled on account of severe arthritis in her cervical spine (neck) that prevented her from performing her usual work as an appellate attorney. After attempting numerous ergonomic accommodations to permit Cheney to continue working that were only temporarily effective, she finally had to cease working altogether and apply for disability benefits when it became evident that she needed surgery and would be unable to return to work. However, her law firm's disability insurance company, Standard Insurance Company, denied her claim and refused to pay any benefits whatsoever. Challenging that determination, DeBofsky, Sherman & Casciari, PC filed suit against Standard; and in a ruling issued on August 28, 2014, the federal court sided with Cheney and ruled she was entitled to the benefits claimed.

Mark DeBofsky and William Reynolds represented Carole Cheney in this proceeding.

Halley v. Aetna Life Insurance Co.

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois held that Aetna's failure to adequately address whether a claimant was capable of earning a salary comparable to his pre-disability income invalidated its decision to terminate benefits.

Raybourne v. CIGNA Life Ins.Co. of N.Y., 700 F.3d 1076 (7 th Cir. 2012).

In this ruling against CIGNA, the U.S. Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling finding that CIGNA had improperly terminated Edward Raybourne's disability benefits. The court ruled that CIGNA failed to take Raybourne's Social Security disability benefit determination into consideration, and that CIGNA was motivated by a financial conflict of interest. Raybourne was also successful in challenging CIGNA's reliance on a so-called independent medical examination. In addition to awarding all benefits due, the court of appeals upheld an award of attorneys' fees to Raybourne's counsel.

Stephan v. Unum Life Ins.Co. of America, 697 F.3d 917 (9 th Cir. 2012).

The U.S. Court of Appeals overturned a lower court ruling that favored UNUM. The court determined that UNUM improperly calculated Mark Stephan's benefits and that it had arbitrarily interpreted the insurance policy in a manner that diminished the benefits due by $10,000/month. The court ruled that Unum's actions were motivated by financial bias and conflict of interest. In addition, the court negated UNUM's claim that communications between its claim adjuster and in-house counsel were shielded from disclosure due to attorney-client privilege.

Holmstrom v. Metropolitan Life Ins.Co., 615 F.3d 758 (7th Cir. 2010).

In Holmstrom, the plaintiff, Lanette Holmstrom, was successful in her appeal against METLIFE (Metropolitan Life Insurance Company) and convinced the court of appeals to overturn a lower court finding in favor of the insurance company and award past-due disability benefits and order the continuation of benefit payments. The ruling was especially significant in recognizing the significance of pain in disability assessment and in criticizing METLIFE for presenting claimant with a "moving target" as to what evidence she should submit.

Diaz v. Prudential Insur.Co. of America, 499 F.3d 640 (7th Cir. 2007) and 422 F.3d 635 (7th Cir. 2005).

This case was heard twice by the court of appeals; and in both rulings, the court overturned a lower court's finding in favor of PRUDENTIAL. In the first ruling, the court held the lower court had improperly deferred to PRUDENTIAL's findings; and in the second ruling, the court determined that PRUDENTIAL improperly refused to consider subjective symptoms such as pain.

Feibusch v. Sun Life, 463 F.3d 880 (9th Cir. 2006).

In this ruling, the court of appeals reversed a judgment entered by a lower court, holding that SUN LIFE's decision was improperly given deference by the trial court. The court of appeals also ruled the trial court improperly interpreted SUN LIFE's insurance policy and ignored generally accepted rules of contract construction.

Ruttenberg v. U.S. Life, 413 F.3d 652 (7th Cir. 2005).

This was a successful aappeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals, where the court recognized that U.S. LIFE improperly denied benefits and misconstrued its policy. The ruling is significant for establishing in ERISA cases the applicability of two insurance law principles: contra proferentem (ambiguities in insurance policies are construed against the insurance company and in favor of the insured) and that the court will interpret questionable insurance policy terms in order to meet the "reasonable expectations of the insured."

Herzberger v. Standard Insurance Company, 205 F.3d 327 (7th Cir. 2000).

The Herzberger ruling was a landmark ERISA case that determined what language in an insurance policy is adequate to trigger a deferential standard of court review. The court ruled that STANDARD INSURANCE COMPANY's policy language was inadequate to permit the court to review the claim denial under an arbitrary and capricious standard of review.

Please see our Past Case Notes of the Month section for additional representative cases.

Lower Court Rulings Barring Insurance Companies From Incorporating Certain Language In Illinois Insurance Policies

DeBofsky, Sherman & Casciari, PC has also secured numerous lower court rulings that have found that a regulation issued by the Illinois Department of Insurance, 50 Ill.Admin.Code § 2001.3, bars insurance companies from incorporating language in their policies that would trigger an arbitrary and capricious standard of review.

Representative examples include:

Zuckerman v. United of Omaha Life Ins.Co., 2012 U.S.Dist.LEXIS 128204 (N.D.Ill. September 6, 2012)

Schlattman v. United of Omaha Life Ins.Co., 2013 U.S.Dist.LEXIS 85906 (N.D.Ill. June 19, 2013)

Curtis v. Hartford Life & Acc.Ins.Co., 2012 U.S.Dist.LEXIS 5423 (N.D.Ill. January 18, 2012)

Haines v. Reliance Standard Life Ins.Co., 2010 U.S.Dist.LEXIS 104625 (N.D.Ill. September 9, 2010)

These rulings have prevented insurance companies such as UNITED OF OMAHA LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY (MUTUAL OF OMAHA), RELIANCE STANDARD, and HARTFORD LIFE from gaining an advantage in litigation against its insureds by triggering a judicial standard of review that would favor a denial of benefits.