Insurance Companies Play Mind Games

If there is one thing you can rely on, it is that insurance companies will move heaven and earth to turn a physical disability claim into a mental or psychiatric one. The reason is obvious – most group disability policies and many individual policies limit benefits in psychiatric case to 24 months. In disability claims not caused by mental or psychiatric illnesses, disability payments usually run to age 65.

Clearly illustrating this insurance company partiality to mental problems as a disability cause is a recent case in Oregon involving an accountant who had worked for a large national accounting firm for 30 years before he was stricken with fainting spells and slowness of speech and thought. It is a prime example of the lengths insurers will go to convert a disability arising from closed head trauma to a disability based upon mental depression.

In Henarie v. Prudential, 2013 WL 2359009, D. Or. (2013) the Federal District judge wasn’t baffled by the tangled history of the case. Claimant’s doctors had at first blamed his disabling condition on depression. It was only after further symptoms became apparent that the doctors changed their opinion, citing head trauma as the cause of Mr. Henarie’s disability.

To our mind, the most interesting part of the decision was the Court’s observation that Mr. Henarie had been a high achiever who had worked at double the pace required of him by his accounting firm throughout his career. The Court also noted that he had continued at work during a period when he was suffering from a bout of mental depression. Yet, Prudential’s doctors indicated he was malingering rather than making a legitimate claim.

Inconvenient facts rarely discourage insurance companies from arguing what is in their own best financial interests. Insurance companies regularly try to get judges and the public to believe that an otherwise honorable, hard-working person who has an exemplary work history over many, many years, would nevertheless wake up one day and decide to bilk his or her employer and the long term disability insurer because they decide they don’t want to work anymore.

In Henairie, the Court looked closely at the strenuous effort the plaintiff’s doctors made to come up with the truth even though it required them to change their original diagnoses. The Court questioned whether the insurance company doctors had even reviewed the appeal and exhibits. The Court agreed with Prudential that their doctors need not disclose the material they reviewed, but, he continued, “…their opinion ought to reflect that they read and digested Henarie’s arguments.”

This was a complex case with the claimant’s doctors changing their diagnoses after obtaining and reviewing more facts, but it was also very basic with the court considering things like the long work history of the claimant and the very simple tenet that if an insurance company doctor is going to render a medical opinion, the doctor should at least give the reviewing judge the feeling that the doctor has read and considered the medical evidence of the other side.

Common sense never hurt a court decision.