Case Study: Can You Sue Your Insurer For Emotional Distress?
At least one court thinks so. In Daie v. The Reed Grp., Ltd., the claimant was denied long term disability benefits under an ERISA plan. Instead of merely asking the court to reverse the denial of disability benefits (a result that can be difficult to achieve under ERISA), claimant filed a complaint in state court alleging intentional infliction of emotional distress.
The claimant asserted that the insurer “repeatedly engaged in extreme and outrageous conduct with the aim of forcing plaintiff to drop his claim and return to work.” Id. More specifically, the claimant alleged that the insurer had falsely claimed the claimant was “lying” about his disability and “exaggerating” his symptoms. Id. According to the claimant, the insurer had also urged claimant to take “experimental medications,” induced claimant to “increase his medications,” forced claimant “to undergo a litany of rigorous medical examinations without considering their results,” and pressured claimant “to engage in further medical testing that it knew would cause . . . pain, emotional distress and anxiety.” Id.
The insurer filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that ERISA preempted claimant from bringing the state law claim. The court denied the motion to dismiss for two reasons. First, the court determined that the claim was based on “harassing and oppressive conduct independent of the duties of administering an ERISA plan.” Id. Second, the court determined the insurer had a “duty not to engage in the alleged tortious conduct” that existed “independent of defendants’ duties under the ERISA plan.” Id.
The federal court then sent the case back to state court, where, as of the date of this post, the state court has not yet determined whether claimant should be awarded damages for emotional distress.
At this point, this ruling has only been adopted by the District Court, and not the Court of Appeals, so it is not binding upon other courts. However, it could potentially persuade other courts to recognize similar claims. It will be interesting to see how many other courts follow suit, and whether this ruling will ultimately be adopted by courts at the appellate level.
 No. C 15-03813 WHA, 2015 WL 6954915, at *1 (N.D. Cal. Nov. 10, 2015).