A former blood-taker at a local laboratory can collect attorney’s fees from the insurance company that provides coverage for workers at her former place of employment, which the woman had sued for denying her claim, a federal judge has ruled.
In a March 15 order, U.S. District Judge Berle M. Schiller granted Leonora Glunt’s motion to collect attorney’s fees, prejudgment interest, court costs and benefits totally from the Life Insurance Company of North America.
The benefits and prejudgment interest totaled $11,725.08 while the attorney’s fees and costs were $26,650 and $378.92 respectively.
Glunt, who worked as a phlebotomist at Quest Diagnostics, stopped working at the company in late April 2010 due to a panic disorder, according to background information in the judge’s ruling.
She filed a claim for short-term disability benefits with the insurance company in early May 2010, a claim that was subsequently denied by the insurance company.
Glunt then filed an appeal with the company, but was again told by the insurance company that it found “insufficient clinical information” to support her claim for short-term disability benefits.
Glunt filed a complaint with the Lancaster County Court of Common Pleas on April 22, 2011, which was transferred to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on May 12, 2011.
She argued that the defendant’s actions violated the Employee Retirement Income Security Act.
After Glunt and the insurance company cross-filed motions for summary judgment, the court found in favor of the plaintiff, stating that it found sufficient evidence that Glunt satisfied the definition of “disabled” under the policy.
Glunt subsequently filed a motion to recoup litigation costs.
In ruling in the plaintiff’s favor, Schiller wrote that Glunt has “clearly achieved success on the merits of her claim” due to the fact that the court already granted the plaintiff summary judgment in her case against the insurance company.
“Glunt has achieved far more than trivial success on the merits or a purely procedural victory,” the judge wrote.
Schiller wrote that Glunt succeeded in satisfying the requirements needed to collect attorney’s fees and other costs.
The court found one factor in particular, known as the “deterrent effect,” as the most compelling in its decision to award attorney’s fees, the ruling states.
The factor requires courts to consider whether an award of attorney’s fees would serve the objectives of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act by “dissuading similar conduct in the future,” the ruling states.
“Glunt produced evidence sufficient to demonstrate that she was disabled under the policy, but LINA cherry-picked the evidence in the record and ignored Glunt’s doctors’ assessments of her restrictions in order to deny her claim,” Schiller wrote. “LINA’s plan administrators cannot substitute their judgment on the practical and functional effects of a doctor’s diagnosis.”
An award of attorney’s fees in this case, Schiller wrote, may deter plan administrators from wrongfully denying benefits and selectively considering evidence in the medical record in future cases.