Signing a severance agreement or settlement agreement with an employer that contains a general release may unintentionally bar a claimant from pursuing a disability benefit claim under ERISA. That was the lesson learned by Dr. Thomas Gonda, Jr., who worked as a thoracic surgeon at Kaiser Permanente until he became disabled due to cognitive impairments and substance abuse problems following treatment for a subdural hematoma.
A recent ruling from a federal court in Alabama - Rosen v. Provident Life and Accident Insur. Co., 2015 WL 260839 (N.D.Ala. January 21, 2015) addressed a controversial issue involving ERISA preemption. Typically, ERISA is implicated only where an employer sponsors a retirement plan or offers group coverage to its employees for disability, life, or health insurance. However, several insurance companies offer employers a discount on premiums if they are able to issue a series of individually underwritten disability insurance policies, and the premiums are billed to the employer on a single bill. This often occurs with medical and legal professional practices. Many courts have held that such a practice established an ERISA welfare benefit plan.