Disability And Injury FAQs
Injuries and illnesses that keep from work can cause considerable personal and financial strain. At these times, individuals and families rely on insurance policies to keep them secure. When those benefits are denied, it’s natural to have many concerns and questions. Browse our FAQs to find information and insight from our experienced disability and injury attorneys.
Oops. I missed the 180-day appeal deadline. What do I do now?Show Answer Hide Answer
You should not assume all is lost. You should immediately seek legal advice from an attorney like Mr. Ortiz who is experienced in handling ERISA disability cases to determine whether the typical 180-day deadlines apply to your claim. We can be reached at 850-898-9904.
Do I have a limited amount of time to appeal the denial of my disability benefits?Show Answer Hide Answer
Yes. A disability insurance claim is not like an automobile accident claim, where you may have years after the incident to file a lawsuit. Under ERISA rules and regulations, you only have 180 days from the date on the insurance company’s denial letter to file your appeal. It is critical that you give notice of your appeal before this deadline.
Note: Some long-term disability policies provide for a second level appeal, and the deadline is often shorter than 180 days.
How do I appeal a denial of benefits on my own?Show Answer Hide Answer
If you insist on appealing on your own without legal representation, you should follow the steps below:
- Read the entire denial letter carefully from start to finish. Read it again a couple more times. The insurance company is legally obligated to advise you of the specific reasons it is denying your claim. The carrier must reference the specific policy provision on which the denial is based; describe what additional material or information, if any, is necessary to further evaluate and support your claim; and explain what specific steps you must take to appeal.
- Next, you should request your free copy of your claim file from the insurance company. Submit your request in writing immediately after the denial order to allow you sufficient time to review its contents before writing your appeal. This claim file should include a copy of your entire disability policy.
- You must submit your appeal to the insurance company before the specified deadline. You should do so in writing, not by telephone, preferably by certified mail with delivery confirmation. It is critical that you do not miss your deadline. The time to appeal starts immediately after the insurance company denies your claim.
- Your appeal letter should clearly state that you are appealing the denial of your disability claim. You should specifically state the basis for your appeal and list the additional evidence you are submitting in support of the claim.
- If you received assistance in filing the appeal, be sure to mention this fact in your letter because insurance companies have been known to point to a well-written appeal letter by the claimant as support for upholding their previous denial. If preparing the appeal letter and putting together the enclosures took you a significant amount of time, be sure to mention that fact as well.
You Will Need Evidence to Support Your Claim
Finally, do not assume that the insurance company obtained all of the medical records and other evidence relevant to your case. Carefully review the list of evidence the insurance company considered in rendering its decision and submit (or resubmit) anything that will help prove your disability. “Packing the record” with such evidence is critical. Don’t forget – in most cases, you cannot submit any additional evidence during the lawsuit, no matter how relevant it is to your case. The only thing the court will review is the information that was in the claim file at the time the insurance company made its decision. The appeals process is the perfect opportunity to add as much information as possible to the claim file. Such evidence may be critical to a lawsuit later down the line. For such reasons, I generally recommend that you do not handle your own appeal on your own. Remember- ERISA laws are unfair and difficult for non-attorneys to comprehend. For assistance with your appeal, call 850-898-9904 as soon as possible.
I filed my individual disability insurance claim and it has been denied. What do I do now?Show Answer Hide Answer
It depends on the language of your disability policy. For that reason alone, you should seek legal advice from an experienced disability insurance attorney. You don’t want to make the mistake of appealing the claim on your own when it may not even be necessary. Some policies require an appeal before litigation and others do not. It is easy for individual policyholders who are not trained to read insurance policies to misread or misunderstand the disability policy. For these reasons, you should seriously consider contacting an experienced attorney before you make a terrible claim or appeal mistake.
What is ERISA preemption?Show Answer Hide Answer
Courts have determined that all State laws affording remedies to insurance claimants (insureds) for the improper denial of employer-provided insurance benefits do not extend beyond the limited remedies afforded by ERISA. State laws, including “common law” and state statutes, are “preempted” by ERISA. For example, any right under Florida law to recover “extra-contractual” damages for the bad faith breach of an insurance contract is preempted and not available under ERISA regulations.
Is my claim governed by ERISA?Show Answer Hide Answer
If you are covered by a Group Long Term Disability Policy through your employment, your claim is probably governed by ERISA. As stated throughout the remainder of this website, if you did not obtain disability coverage through your employer or employee group, and instead purchased it as an individual policy from an insurance agent or broker, then there is a good possibility that your disability claim will not be covered by ERISA and your legal options and remedies are more favorable. Moreover, church and governmental (including most City and University) employees are also exempt from ERISA.
What to Do If You Are Denied Coverage for a Non-ERISA Policy
If you have church policy, a governmental employee policy, or an individual disability policy purchased directly from an agent or broker then you may not have to appeal the denial before filing a lawsuit. In these instances, you should consult an attorney immediately. You can reach The Ortiz Law Firm at 850-898-9904.
What is ERISA and what does it have to do with my LTD claim?Show Answer Hide Answer
ERISA stands for the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974. It is a set of federal regulations that apply to insurance policies obtained through your employer, union, or employee organization.
Congress originally passed ERISA to protect large pension funds (hence the “Retirement Income” part of the name). As you may recall, several decades ago there was very little protection to employees’ pension funds if the employer went bankrupt or if the employer decided to raid the pension funds. Thus, Congress enacted ERISA to protect employees’ retirement pensions. Unfortunately, the insurance companies have used their power and influence to broadly expand the reach of ERISA to other “fringe benefits” and employee benefits. In 1986, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that ERISA governs employer-provided insurance benefits in addition to employer-provided pension plans. Now ERISA applies to most all employee benefits, including health, life and disability insurance – and not just pensions. ERISA “preempts”, or supersedes, state laws that govern employee benefit plans.
What to Do If You Need to Appeal a Denial Under ERISA
If you have a disability claim that is subject to ERISA regulations, you must be sure to take all appropriate actions for a timely appeal the denial of your benefits.
ERISA requires that you “exhaust” all “administrative remedies” before you can file a lawsuit. This means you may have to file several appeals directly with the insurance company before you can take your case to court. In most instances, you must file your appeal within 180 days from the date on your denial letter. However, you should read the last few pages of your denial letter from the insurance company. The insurance company typically tells you: (1) the time limit to file your appeal and (2) the address where you should send the appeal.
You do not necessarily require an attorney to appeal your denial of benefits, but it may be to your benefit to retain the assistance of an attorney to help you in your claim with the insurance company.
Why is it so important to determine whether my LTD coverage is under an individual or group policy?Show Answer Hide Answer
The remedies available to an insured under an individual disability policy are vastly different than those under a group policy. If the insurance coverage is under a group policy provided by the insured’s employer, the policy is likely governed by ERISA. If the policy is governed by ERISA, then certain state laws that offer consumers protection and remedies for relief are “preempted” by ERISA regulations. In short, if the LTD plan is governed by ERISA, the disability insurance company has no exposure to bad faith damages and thus has no real incentive to pay the claim.
Why is my insurance company delaying payment on my claim?Show Answer Hide Answer
My insurance company seems to be engaging in delay tactics. They keep asking for the same information over and over, they say they are still processing my records, and they still have not made a decision on my claim. Now they tell me they still require additional information. Why are they doing this, and are they allowed to do this?
As for whether they are allowed to engage in delay tactics, the answer is yes. ERISA rules and regulations allow for insurance companies to invoke automatic extensions of time in which to make a decision. All the insurance company has to say is that they don’t yet have all the information they need.
How Do Delays Benefit the Insurance Company?
There are several answers to the first part of this question. First, insurance companies do not like to pay out on claims. It hurts their financial bottom line. The more premium money they keep, the better the insurance companies look to their investors. Second, it is a tactic to “starve you out.” They know you are without the disability insurance income, and they know some claimants return to work—any kind of work—to pay the bills. They also know that many workers who become disabled are too sick and tired to put up a fight, nd that many claimants will simply give up. Don’t give up. Don’t give them the satisfaction.
How do I go about filing a disability claim?Show Answer Hide Answer
How you file a disability claim depends on the type of plan you have, as follows:
- If your policy is part of a group plan, you should contact your human resources manager to obtain a copy of your summary plan description and a disability claim application.
- If you purchased an individual disability policy, you should contact your broker or insurance agent for an application.
Under either scenario, you can always obtain the necessary paperwork directly from the insurance company.
You May Need Help to Complete the Application
You will find that the application is very long and has numerous forms that must be filled out. The instructions can often be confusing to someone who is going through this process for the first time. Keep in mind that one wrong answer could mean that your claim will be denied. You should seriously consider seeking assistance from an experienced attorney in applying for your disability benefits.