Case Study: Mental Health Disability Claims – Part 2
In Part 1 of this post, we started looking at a case involving a mental disability claim where the court reversed Unum’s claim denial under ERISA de novo review. In Part 2, we are going to look at how the same court determined the extent of claimant’s disability benefits.
Turning back to the Doe case we examined in Part 1, after the court reversed the denial, the parties could not agree on the amount of benefits the claimant was entitled to. In previous posts, we have discussed how many disability insurance policies have a mental health exclusion that limits recovery to a particular period—usually 2-3 years. Unfortunately for our claimant, he had such a provision in his disability policy, which provided that his “lifetime cumulative maximum benefit period for all disabilities due to mental illness” was “24 months.”
Not surprisingly, Unum invoked this provision and asserted that it only had to pay benefits for a 24 month period. The court agreed, for several reasons:
- To begin, the policy defined “mental illness” as “a psychiatric or psychological condition classified in the [DSM], published by the American Psychiatric Association, most current at the start of disability.” All of claimant’s conditions (major depression, OCD, ADHD, OCPD, and Asperger’s) were classified in the DSM-IV.
- Claimant attempted to assert that his disability was not a “mental illness” because it was “biologically based.” Id. While this type of argument had been accepted by some other courts, the court in Doe determined that it was not convincing in this particular instance because the claimant’s policy expressly defined “mental illness” as a condition classified in the DSM-IV. The court also noted that DSM-IV itself notes that “there is much ‘physical’ in ‘mental’ disorders and much ‘mental’ in ‘physical’ disorders” Id.
- Accordingly, the court concluded that because the policy was “concerned only with whether a condition is classified in the DSM,” whether claimant’s conditions had “biological bases” was “immaterial.”
Thus, even though the Doe claimant was successful in obtaining a reversal of the claim denial, in the end, he only received 24 months of benefits due to the mental health exclusion.
If you are purchasing a new disability insurance policy, you will want to avoid such exclusions where possible. If you have a mental disability and are concerned about your chances of recovering benefits, an experienced disability insurance attorney can look over your policy and give you a sense of the likelihood that your disability claim will be approved, and the extent of the disability benefits you would be entitled to.
 See Doe v. Unum Life Ins. Co. of Am., No. 12 CIV. 9327 LAK, 2015 WL 5826696 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 5, 2015).