Jannette Neal filed a lawsuit against Hartford Life Group Insurance Company in the United States District Court of the Western District of Arkansas, challenging the insurer’s decision to deny her long-term disability benefits. As a result of a lack of medical support from her treating physicians, Ms. Neal’s denial of disability benefits by Hartford was upheld by the Arkansas court.
Jannette Neal Becomes Disabled From her Own Occupation
An employee at Baxter Healthcare Corporation for more than 32 years, Jannette Neal was working as an operator in an assembly-line position when she became disabled. In her job as an operator, Neal was required to “stand, walk bend, squat, kneel, use both hands, and lift up to 50 pounds or greater, all on a constant basis.” Ceasing to work on September 6, 2006, Neal received short-term disability benefits until March 22, 2007, at which time Neal was approved for Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits.
Hartford adjusted the amount of Neal’s benefits to take into account her SSD contribution and started receiving long-term disability benefits under the insurer’s “own occupation” standard. In March 2008, Neal was informed that to continue receiving her long-term disability she would have to qualify under the “any occupation” standard, meaning that she had to show that she could not perform at any occupation because of her disabled state.
Neal Loses Her Disability Benefits Due to the Application of Hartford’s Any Occupation Standard
According to Hartford, Neal was not eligible for long-term disability benefits under the “any occupation” standard, and the insurer terminated her disability benefits on May 16, 2008. Evidence presented to the Court included Neal’s Attending Physician’s Statement of Continuing Disability, verifying that Neal suffers from “degenerative disc disease, spinal stenosis, and forminal stenosis,” and was being treated with “epidural steroid injections, stating that Neal would have this condition for the duration of her lifetime.
Visiting her attending physician on numerous occasions, all of which were documented and provided to Hartford, Neal had a plethora of evidence verifying her disabled condition. A telephone interview of Neal by a Hartford reviewer resulted in the insurer having a problem with the fact that at this point, Neal was not being treated by a Pain Specialist, which according to the reviewer , was evidently a reason to believe that Neal’s pain wasn’t as severe as Neal and her physician claimed. Video surveillance of Neal’s daily activities led Hartford to conclude that Neal was capable of working at “any occupation.”
Neal’s Disability Condition Worsens
In January of 2008, Neal was seen by an OB-GYN for stress incontinence and her doctor reported that Neal “had two anterior and posterior repairs and was taking numerous medications to deal with the problem. Several medical exams later, for various abdominal reflux, and associated pain symptoms, Neal and her husband met with a Hartford investigator to review the surveillance video of Neal’s activities. The investigator noted Neal’s present physical condition and Neal agreed to provide a statement to the investigator stating that:
- Neal is disabled due to bladder and bowel problems and degenerative disc disease in the cervical area.
- Her degenerative disc disease caused her to have a constant headache.
- She was unable to perform her previous job duties.
- She was only able to function in taking care of herself, getting out two days a week.
- She wore pads daily for incontinence.
- She was in substantial pain regularly in her neck, shoulders, legs and stomach.
- She was limited in her ability to walk for long periods.
- She was limited in her range of motion and lifting capabilities.
Consulting with two of Neal’s physicians, Hartford was informed by the two that they would rely on the opinions of another of Neal’s physicians, who did not respond to Hartford’s questions about Neal’s health. A doctor hired by Hartford reviewed Neal’s surveillance video and medical records and concluded that Neal was able to work at a position that did not require a great deal of walking, standing, or lifting. He reported that Neal could work full time with restrictions.
Hartford Employer Determines that Neal Is Qualified to Work at Three Jobs
In May 2008 a Hartford rehabilitation clinical case manager identified three occupations she felt Neal could work in – bite-block maker, eyeglass frames inspector and plate gauge. After reviewing these evaluations, Hartford Life terminated Neal’s disability benefits on May 16, 2008, stating that under the “any occupation” standard, Neal was “not disabled from performing the . . . substantial duties of any occupation for which [she was] qualified by education, training, or experience.”
With no other place to turn and after denial upon denial of benefits in various appeals, Neal hired a Arkansas disability attorney and filed the subject lawsuit. And, after hearing the evidence in Jannette Neal v. Hartford Life Group Insurance Company, the District Court of the Western District of Arkansas, ultimately agreed with Hartford and decided that Neal was “not entitled to a judgment against [Hartford] and that her claims against [the insurer] must be dismissed,” that Neal’s Motion for Summary Judgment was denied, and that each party in this lawsuit would be responsible for their own attorney’s fees and Court costs.” This case was dismissed with Neal not receiving any restitution for her claims against Hartford.