Insurance Company Tactics:
Selectively Reviewing Claim Files

Most disability insurance companies request medical records as part of the claim investigation, in order to verify the disabling condition. However, an insurer intent on denying a claim may improperly cherry-pick certain medical records and ignore other records.

One such egregious example is the case of Watson v. UnumProvident Corp.[1] Valerie Watson, a legal secretary, become disabled in 1998, primarily due to heart disease and cardiac arrest. She began receiving benefits from UnumProvident under her policy, which provided she was totally disabled if she was unable to perform her own occupation. Her doctor, cardiologist Dr. Larry Perry, provided regular certifications to support Watson’s claim that she was disabled.

In mid-2000, UnumProvident (Unum) conducted a review of Watson’s case and, as part of this review, requested medical records, including Dr. Perry’s. In response to Unum’s request, Dr. Perry’s office inadvertently returned records for a “Valerie Johnson” rather than the actual records for Watson.

Remarkably, Unum did not request the correct records; instead, Unum determined Watson was no longer totally disabled and terminated benefits in November 2000. As Watson’s disability policy was subject to ERISA, she appealed the decision to Unum, and Unum rejected the appeal and denied her claim a second time (again, without requesting and reviewing the correct medical records).

When Watson sued Unum for denying her claim, the Court found that Unum improperly based its decision on “scant” evidence. In response to Unum’s protests that it had conducted a full and fair review, the Court pointed to Unum’s repeated failure to notice the fact that Unum had the wrong medical records and held that “viewed in full context, Unum’s behavior in this case was far more than mere negligent inattention to its important procedural and substantive responsibilities . . . it bordered on outright fraud” (emphasis added). The judge held that Unum’s failure to notice the records were actually the records of another patient served as conclusive proof that Unum had engaged in “an unprincipled and unreasonably review process in which it demonstrably looked only at selective records.”

This instance shows despite having a supportive doctor and detailed medical records, an insurance company may still deny or terminate a claim by ignoring (or not even looking at) medical records.

Every claim is unique and the discussion above is only a limited summary of the court’s ruling in this case. If you are concerned that your claim has not received a full and fair review, an experienced disability insurance attorney can evaluate your claim and help you determine what options are available.

[1] Watson v. UnumProvident Corp., 185 F.Supp.2d 579 (D. Md. 2002)

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