On February 22, 2019, the U.S.D.C. for the Eastern District of Louisiana granted summary judgment in favor of Unum Life Insurance Company of America in a suit for long-term disability benefits under an ERISA plan. The plaintiff, Anne Wittmann, was an attorney employed by Baker Donelson who claimed that she could not work due to pain and an inability to concentrate associated with fibromyalgia. Unum was represented by Lauren A. Welch of McCranie Sistrunk Anzelmo Hardy McDaniel & Welch LLC and Wittmann was represented by Rachel W. Wisdom of Stone Pigman Walther Wittmann LLC.
Unum did not abuse its discretion by requiring objective evidence of functional limitations or in upholding its denial when Wittmann’s expert found that neuropsychological test results did not corroborate her reported concentration problems. The court rejected Wittmann’s assertions that Unum’s decision was not supported by the evidence and that it violated ERISA claim-handling procedures and its own internal guidelines.
Unum’s decision to pay 24 months of benefits under the policy’s limitation of benefits provision for disabilities due to mental illness was upheld after it was provided with a decision awarding Wittmann SSDI benefits. Despite Wittmann’s objection that she never claimed to have a mental disability, the court noted that she provided Unum with evidence that included the SSA psychologist’s diagnosis of anxiety and depression and her own psychiatrist’s diagnosis of Somatic Symptom Disorder.
Wittmann’s argument that Unum’s decision was tainted by its conflict of interest in both evaluating and paying claims was rejected. Specifically, Wittmann claimed that a file note referencing the Stone Pigman firm–which her estranged husband is affiliated with—that pre-dated the firm’s representation of her, was evidence of Unum’s conflict of interest. “To the contrary, common sense suggests that flagging Wittmann as a high-profile claimant would incentivize Unum to more carefully administer her claim” the court noted.