Meet Terri Truitt, a Texas lawyer who is the new poster girl for the insurance defense bar.
Ms. Truitt was on long term disability with Unum for years while at the same time apparently performing tasks she allegedly wasn’t physically able to perform and acting like a world traveler while she said her disability prevented her from traveling on her job.
She received substantial benefit payments from Unum from 2002 till 2009 when Unum denied her claim based upon new insights into her actual life. These insights were provided by 600 emails and travel itineraries covering several years.
Ms. Truitt’s demise was caused by a former boyfriend who blew the whistle and brought her LTD benefits run to close. Apparently, there is truth in the saying, “Hell hath no fury like a ‘man’ scorned”.
The saga begins in 2003 when she began receiving benefits for leg pain which prevented her from lifting, walking or sitting. The disability made carrying bags and sitting on a plane for long periods impossible, she said, and these tasks were an integral part of her occupation as an attorney required to travel and carry bags and exhibits.
Although surveillance videos and medical evaluations obtained by Unum indicated otherwise, Ms. Truitt was able to defend her receipt of benefits until the “ex-friend” provided emails, photos and travel itineraries showing her doing everything she said she couldn’t do. Her benefits were halted but she managed to get Unum, one of the toughest on claims in the insurance business, to reinstate them
Ultimately, Unum prevailed in court. The Truitt opinion details a high-flying life which would have been impossible with the disability she claimed. The opinion is worth reading, Truitt v. Unum Life, 2013 WL 4777322 C.A. 5 (Tex.) (No. 12-50142), to show the details of how flagrantly Ms. Truitt appears to have flouted the rules of disability.
Even though Unum is suing for the return of $1 million it claims was wrongfully paid to her as benefits, the damage to others caused by Ms. Truitt’s apparent conduct is much worse.
Hurt more are the thousands upon thousands of ERISA and DI claimants who are suffering from disabilities that really prevent them from working and now will have to overcome the Truitt case which is bound to be raised by insurance companies whose first instinct is to believe that all claimants are looking for a free handout.
That’s why we called Ms. Truitt a “poster girl” for the defense bar. Those of us who practice disability claims law for plaintiffs will no doubt have her case thrown up to us time and again in future. Our own experience, however, is that very few people seek disability benefits without legitimately needing them. We find that the vast majority of people want to be productive, accomplish something and earn their own way in life.
Of course, defense counsel will at the same time ignore the Court’s awareness in the Truitt opinion of Unum’s history of misconduct in ERISA matters. We, like Unum, do not in any way condone Miss Truitt’s apparent conduct in this matter. We also point out to Unum that history counts.
Insurance companies try to paint claimants as dishonest malingerers who are looking to avoid work and receive insurance benefits. They tend to paint all claimants with a broad brush. Truitt shows that sometimes they may be right.
In the vast majority of cases, they are wrong!