The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) governs certain life insurance plans offered by employers. Whether or not ERISA covers an insurance plan is important because it will impact the way in which a claim denial may be appealed. Additionally, claims governed by ERISA have more limited remedy options than under traditional state law.
What is ERISA?
Under ERISA, minimum standards are established for benefit plans offered by employers, including life insurance plans. However, ERISA is only applicable to private employers that offer employer-sponsored insurance (or other benefit plans) to employees. ERISA does not mandate that plans are offered by employers, but does set standards and rules that must be met for those employers that do offer plans. ERISA does not apply to individually purchased, private insurance plans.
Additionally, ERISA does not apply to the following plans:
- - A government plan; - A church plan with respect to which no election has been made under section 410(d) of title 26;
- - A plan maintained strictly for the purpose of complying with relevant workers’ compensation laws or unemployment compensation or disability insurance laws;
- - A plan maintained outside of the United States for the benefit of nonresident illegal immigrants; or
- - An excess benefit plan that is not funded.
Appealing a Claim Denial
The process for appeal begins with the insurance company sending a letter to the claimant explaining that the claim has been denied. A claimant has the right to receive all “relevant documents” to the case, but this must be requested. It is important to request the plan administrator to send these documents. After the claimant has all of the documents and is ready to state his or her case, the request for an administrative review should be made. However, a request for this review must be made within 180 days of the denial of the claim. It is important to note that, under ERISA-governed plans, a lawsuit is not available until an administrative review is conducted.
For the review, the insurance company will provide the reasons for denying the claim. The claimant should respond to these thoroughly and objectively. This is a critical step, because the information provided at this stage will be the information that the judge will review upon appeal in the event that the administrative review is not favorable to the claimant. Similarly, the administrative review is limited to the evidence and medical documents that have been provided to the company.
If the administrative review does not overturn the denial of the claim, the decision can be appealed by filing a federal lawsuit. ERISA does not allow for punitive damage awards or bad faith claims in these types of lawsuits. Additionally, the case is heard and ruled on by a judge, not a jury. As a result of these differences, quite often it can be beneficial to attempt to argue that ERISA does not cover the insurance plan.
Appealing denial of claims governed by ERISA can be complicated. For more information about the process and how an experienced Illinois insurance dispute attorney can help, contact us today. Drost, Gilbert, Andrew & Apicella, LLC proudly provides legal representation for communities such as Des Plaines, Crystal Lake, Palatine, Rolling Meadows, and Barrington.
About the Author: Attorney Ken Apicella is a founding partner of DGAA focusing in the areas of personal injury, employment, insurance coverage disputes, and civil litigation. Ken earned his J.D. from DePaul University College of Law in 1999. He has been named a SuperLawyers Rising Star and a Forty Illinois Attorneys Under Forty to Watch. Ken has written and lectured for the Illinois Institute for Continuing Legal Education and regularly serves as a moderator at Northwest Suburban Bar Association's Continuing Legal Education seminars.