On November 27, 2012, following a trial before Judge Cormac J. Carney of the United States Federal District Court for the Central District of California, Robert J. McKennon and Scott E. Calvert of the McKennon Law Group secured a victory for their client in a lawsuit against Sun Life and Health Insurance Company. Representing the claimant, Mr. Evans, the McKennon Law Group convinced the District Court that Sun Life abused its discretion in denying Mr. Evans’ claim for long-term disability benefits and that Mr. Evans is entitled to receive his disability benefits that Sun Life denied him.
Mr. Evans was an attorney who unfortunately suffered a mental breakdown that left him unable to return to work. While his claim for short-term disability benefits was approved and paid by Sun Life, the company improperly denied his claim for long-term disability (“LTD”) benefits. When Sun Life refused to overturn its claim decision on appeal, Mr. Evans hired the McKennon Law Group to file a lawsuit against Sun Life, alleging that the decision to deny his claim for LTD benefits violated the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, also known as ERISA. Mr. Evans filed a Complaint in September 2011.
During the litigation, the parties could not agree as to the proper scope of discovery in an ERISA matter. After the parties presented the dispute the Court, Mr. Evans was permitted to conduct discovery regarding Sun Life’s conflict of interest through written discovery and deposition testimony.
Following the trial, Judge Carney issued a Memorandum of Decision in Mr. Evans’ favor. While explaining that the Plan’s language mandated that Sun Life’s decision should be reviewed under the more lenient “abuse of discretion” standard of review, the Court found that Mr. Evans presented:
evidence that Sun Life failed to credit Mr. Evans’ reliable evidence, failed to adequately investigate the claim, and failed to ask Mr. Evans for necessary evidence. As a result, the Court will give considerable weight to Sun Life’s conflict of interest in determining whether it abused its discretion in denying Mr. Evans’ claim.
The Court then explained that despite being presented with medical evidence supporting Mr. Evans’ claim for disability benefits, Sun Life abused its discretion in denying his claim:
In addition to the conflict of interest, the other factors, “the quality and quantity of the medical evidence, whether the plan administrator subjected the claimant to an in-person medical evaluation or relied instead on a paper review of the claimant’s existing medical records, whether the administrator provided its independent experts with all of the relevant evidence, and whether the administrator considered a contrary SSA disability determination, if any,” Montour, 588 F.3d at 630, weigh in favor of a finding that Sun Life abused its discretion. Specifically, its decisions that Mr. Evans was not disabled until December 13, 2007 and that Mr. Evans was not disabled throughout the elimination period were illogical, implausible, and without support in inferences that could reasonably be drawn from facts in the record because: (1) every doctor who personally examined Mr. Evans concluded that he was disabled and unable to return to his regular work; (2) Sun Life did not subject Mr. Evans to an in-person medical evaluation; (3) Sun Life relied almost exclusively on the deeply flawed assessment by Dr. Himber; (4) and Sun Life failed to engage in a “meaningful dialogue” with Mr. Evans.
In conclusion, the Court ruled that the “evidence in the record overwhelming shows that Mr. Evans was totally disabled prior the date of his termination and throughout the elimination period” and ordered Sun Life “to pay long-term disability benefits to Mr. Evans in accordance with the Policy.”
Robert J. McKennon and Scott E. Calvert litigated the case on behalf of Mr. Evans.