Leave No Stone Unturned

A case in the Sixth Circuit, Balmert v. Reliance Standard Life Ins. Co., 2008 WL 4404299, S.D. Ohio,2008, reminded us that advisers to claimants, unfamiliar with the practice of disability income insurance claims, can sometimes overlook a client’s fundamental right.

An ERISA litigation is tough enough to win even when the claimant dots all the “i’s” and crosses all “t’s”. But, overlooking the claimant’s fundamental right to review and respond to a critical independent medical examiner’s (IME) report, bought and paid for by the insurer, see IME, is a disability insurance “no-no”.

It is important to note that in Balmert, the claimant wanted the plan administrator’s denial of her claim for benefits to be overturned because she had not been given the opportunity to rebut the report of the insurer’s medical expert.

The Sixth Circuit, in denying her appeal, stated clearly that she had a right to review the IME report and to rebut and/or otherwise comment on it, but her failure to review and rebut the report, since she had never asked to see it prior to the litigation, was not grounds for granting a reversal.

Not having seen it, we have no way of knowing if a review and rebuttal of the IME report could have carried the day in this case, but we do know that each and every report or piece of evidence used by the insurance company to reject a claim should be examined in detail and clearly rebutted by the claimant, if warranted, during the administrative appeal process. If a claimant waits for the opportunity to do so in the actual litigation, it may be too late.

For a claimant not to do so at the administrative level may hand the insurance company an undeserved “leg up” in its battle to deny benefits.