The Fourth Circuit Court of appeals has upheld the denial of disability insurance benefits to a nurse, finding (once again) that policy language in a Reliance Standard Insurance company's long-term disability policy REALLY DOES MEAN that you are only eligible for payments under the total disability definition is you can't to ALL of the material duties of any occupation. Here's what this means to consumers and employers.

MOST disability policies will protect you if, because of sickness or illness, you can't work. MOST policies will pay benefits if you can't work, even if you could actually do some of the duties (but not enough that anyone would actually employ you.) Now, Reliance can sell any policy it wants but employers and employees who have bought a policy from Reliance should know that they only qualify for benefits if they CAN'T DO ANYTHING.

The court quoted Reliance's reason for denying benefits: Reliance notified McKeldin that she did not qualify for long-term disability benefits under the Plan beyond thirty-six months because she could perform some material duties of occupations that her education, training or experience would reasonably allow. The Court said that under this policy an insured who can perform one or more of the material duties of her job, but not all, is not "totally disabled."

Imagine if you were a quadriplegic actor who could still read. Reading is a material duty of being an actor. If reading were all you could do, you would not be entitled to benefits. What if you were a baseball player who could bat but not run. NO BENEFITS! Again, we are not critical of Reliance. It can sell any product it wants. We are critical of employers who buy policies that offer virtually no protection. The case is McKeldin v. Reliance Std. Life Ins. Co., No. 06-1743, 2007 U.S. App. LEXIS 24289 4th Cir. Oct. 17, 2007) (unpub)


Ben Glass
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Ben Glass is a nationally recognized car accident and ERISA disability attorney in Fairfax, VA.
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