Mr. Kerns found out the hard way that filing an ERISA case pro se is not the best idea. ERISA has very technical provisions protecting employees' rights in the areas of long and short-term disability, life insurance, pension, retirement, and health benefits. However, ERISA also has very specific, hard and fast deadlines, and many unique statutory provisions. And, things done early in a claim can have lasting and negative impacts.
Mr. Kerns mistakingly thought that punitive damages could be recieved in an ERISA case. He filed a lawsuit, without an attorney, seeking about 13 years of benefits owed under his retirement benefit plan. He also sued for $3 million in punitive damages. Kerns v. Wenner, No. 16CV2438-WQH-AGS, 2018 WL 3602402 (S.D. Cal. July 24, 2018).
Federal district courts do not help make the case for pro se plaintiffs. It is difficult and dangerous territory for those untrained in the law and especially in the area of ERISA. Mr. Kerns may have had a good case. However,since it was not handled correctly, the Court dismissed the entire case. The court noted that as a matter of law punitive damages are not permitted under ERISA. Despite the label Mr. Kerns used for various claims, they all related to a retirement plan that ERISA governed, and the court saw right through that effort.
It is critical for claimants to obtain ERISA counsel during the claim process so that the claim can be prepared for litigation if it is necessary to take it that far. A solid claim record makes for a solid case. Avoid a dismissal, and let us help. It is always better to hire experienced counsel than to file an ERISA claim pro se.