The casenote of the month is from the Disability E-News Alert! a monthly newsletter describing new disability insurance developments. For subscription information, e-mail Mark DeBofsky or visit www.disabilityenewsalert.com .
Lockhart v. Jefferson Pilot, 2009 U.S.Dist.LEXIS 26809 (N.D.Ill. March 31, 2009)(Issue: Job versus Occupation). In this ruling, the court conducted a "trial on the papers" and found the plaintiff was entitled to judgment in her favor. The case concerned an employee of the Illinois Hospital Association who worked as a risk management consultant until she was terminated from her position in 2002. The record contained a detailed description of the multiple tasks and duties Lockhart had to perform in that position, which included nearly constant use of a computer and involved travel approximately 35% of the time. Lockhart was terminated, allegedly due to poor performance. However, following the termination, Lockhart reached a settlement with IHA which documented that her "performance was adversely affected by her medical condition" and allowed her to file a long-term disability benefit claim based on an allegation that she was disabled while actively employed due to psoriatic arthritis, which caused severe joint pain and fatigue, along with a host of other symptoms.
The court prepared a detailed chronology of Lockhart's medical records and also noted approval of a Social Security disability benefit claim with an onset date as of plaintiff's last date of work. The court found the Social Security determination, while relevant, was not conclusive either as to the onset date of disability or as to the plaintiff's disability. The court also found the letter from the employer mentioning Lockhart's health condition "nearly meaningless." However, the medical evidence convinced the court that Lockhart was disabled as of the date she last worked. Records from shortly after plaintiff's termination painted a picture of declining health in the weeks and months leading up to Lockhart's termination. Hence the court found
that Plaintiff has met her burden of showing that her functional limitations prevented her from performing "each of the main duties of her job." It would be a mistake to read the group policy to preclude total disability benefits for claimants who cannot match a doctor-confirmed functional limitation to every single task required for her job, considered in isolation. For example, even if Plaintiff's hands can literally grasp a telephone, but doing so would exhaust her or cause her pain, then she cannot be said to be able to functionally perform that task. It is clear from the Court's review of the medical records that the cumulative effect of Plaintiff's psoriatic arthritis, fibromyalgia, and depression (and the fatigue and nausea caused by the medications Plaintiff took for her multiple ailments) prevented her from functionally performing "each of the main duties of her job." *45.
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