In 2007, the Georgia Court of Appeals had to address this question in Pomerance v. Berkshire Life Insurance Company of America. 654 S.E.2d. 638 (2007). Alan Pomerance was an obstetrician/gynecologist with four disability insurance policies from Berkshire. These policies provided own-occupation coverage, meaning that “total disability” was defined as “your inability to perform the material and substantial duties of your occupation.”
Dr. Pomerance’s occupational duties included delivering babies, surgeries, C-sections, office visits, making hospital rounds, and being on call. After being diagnosed with a degenerative knee condition, Dr. Pomerance filed a total disability claim with Berkshire, explaining that he could no longer stand for long period of time, so he couldn’t perform deliveries and hospital surgeries, be on call, or assist in the emergency room. Because of his disability, Dr. Pomerance was forced to restrict his practice solely to wellness office visits, which included patient exams, counseling, nonsurgical care, and minor biopsies, but none of his other former duties.
Berkshire declined to pay Dr. Pomerance total disability benefits, arguing that he was only partially disabled because he could still perform one of his “substantial” duties, i.e., office visits. Dr. Pomerance contacted Berkshire and objected to its determination, but Berkshire still refused him total disability benefits. Dr. Pomerance filed suit against Berkshire, claiming breach of contract and bad faith refusal to pay the amounts owed. Continue reading “Case Study: What Does “Material and Substantial” Mean?”