Many people who are very sick or injured may find their long-term disability claim repeatedly denied. That can be very discouraging. But if they don't file a lawsuit in a timely manner, all hope will be lost for such claims.
To make it more discouraging, there are far fewer lawyers who regularly represent individuals in this area of law versus other fields of law. The law that governs most of these claims is called ERISA. In fact, it can take months to find a lawyer who specializes in handling ERISA cases. Then the lawyer needs time to obtain the claim record, review it and then prepare a lawsuit. When people are sick or injured, and now discouraged, it can be too hard to summon the energy to find help.
However, most people don't know that hidden in the language of their plan, is very likely a short time limit as to when a lawsuit must be filed. In fact, it can be very difficult to ascertain exactly what that time might be. Determining the time limit to file a lawsuit on a ERISA disability claim is much like trying to hold onto a greased pig!
The unsuspecting problem, is that Plan administrators can contractually set their own time limit for a lawsuit in the plan. A Supreme Court case called Heimeshoff involved an attempt to set an across-the-board time limit to file suit in ERISA cases. This would make it easier for all to understand. This attempt failed. Courts will enforce the time limit described in a plan. If you are too late you will lose, even if you are clearly disabled from working!
On an issue of such importance, it seems unfair to have this bar to a lawsuit hidden away in a plan. Even if you think you have found it, you still may have to review several policy provisions, and then determine several external facts. For example, you may have to calculate what date proof of loss was required (and figure out how that is defined). Then you may need to know when it was actually furnished, in case the time is shortened by that. And you must know the date the claim was last denied. Does the date of the letter denying the claim matter, or is it the date you received the letter? All of this can catch lawyers and claimants off guard! Judge Acker, a federal judge in Birmingham, AL, summed up his thoughts on ERISA in one sentence: ERISA stands for “Every Rotten Idea Since Adam”. Many would agree!
If you're uncertain about ERISA law, don't worry, you're not alone. We're here to help. Don't hesitate to get in touch with an ERISA case lawyer here at The Martin Law Group. We can help you understand the law and your rights. We provide ERISA case law services for individuals throughout Alabama and Mississippi.