April 12, 2010 (MMD Newswire) -- In November of 2009, Good Morning America aired a story featuring Disability Insurance Law Group's successful fight against Harford Insurance ("Hartford") for Jack "Rocky" Whitten's disability insurance benefits. Rocky, who severed his spinal cord, had been determined by multiple physicians, the Social security Administration, and the Hartford to be disabled from all occupations. Hartford later denied continued benefits to Rocky based in large part on secrete surveillance video showing Rocky dipping taco chips into salsa, being driven to a doctor's appointments, and reading a magazine. DI Law Group appealed Hartford's decision and was successful in overturning the denial of benefits. In the original story, Rocky's attorney, Alicia Paulino-Grisham of DI Law Group, explained that Hartford's actions were not isolated, but appeared to be a pattern and practice of intimidation of disabled claimants. Since the story aired, DI Law Group has filed multiple lawsuits against the Hartford for similar actions and has initiated an investigation of unfair claims practices with the Florida Department of Financial Services. On April 7, 2010, Good Morning America aired a follow-up story of the Firm's ongoing fight with Hartford Insurance Company, featuring numerous claimants who are currently engaged in litigation against Hartford based upon disability claim denials.
The story first featured Evan Werner who enjoyed a long and successful career as a laboratory technician and supervisor (and also a teacher at a local vocational school) for Tenet Healthcare Corporation for several years. Mr. Werner worked overtime hours, and spent the remainder of his time with his family, doing his own repairs and renovations around their home, being the Cub Master for his son's Cub Scout pack, and attending all extracurricular events for both his son and daughter. Unfortunately, this all changed when he was in a terrible automobile accident, which left him with severe spinal injuries. After three separate back surgeries, multiple attempts at physical therapy, steroid injections, and narcotic pain medication his specialists determined that he suffers from failed back syndrome, which will only deteriorate with time, and suffers from severe sleep disturbance, constant pain, and limitations in ambulation, requiring the use of a cane to walk. Evan was approved for benefits under the terms of his policy and Hartford and its physicians consistently reaffirmed his disability status for over 17 years. In 2006, Hartford hired a private investigator to stake out Mr. Werner's home. After five separate unsuccessful attempts at filming Mr. Werner active outside of his home, Hartford contacted his doctor's office to find out when he was scheduled for his next doctor's appointment. On that date, the investigator filmed Mr. Werner going into his doctor's office, stopping at a couple of stores, and briefly walking his 8 pound dog, all with the help of a cane. Shortly thereafter, a Hartford representative went to Mr. Werner's home and aggressively began questioning him about his condition and limitations. The investigator showed Mr. Werner the videotape and accused Evan of being less than truthful about his abilities. Hartford terminated Evan's disability benefits a short time later. Evan's attorney, Mindy Chmielarz, a partner at DI Law Group, explained to Good Morning America that it is one thing to use surveillance investigations to actually obtain an accurate picture of a claimant's normal abilities, but staking out a claimant at his doctor's office is "dirty pool." The five surveillance efforts showing that Evan was unable to leave his home, established that Evan was in fact as limited as his doctors have indicated. However, Hartford was determined to set up surveillance until there was some form of activity by Evan. Not only did the scenario set up by Hartford give an inaccurate depiction of Evan's life but, the video itself was simply not inconsistent with Evan's disability nor the representations that he had made to Hartford regarding his disability claim.
Next, Good Morning America reported Edward Neubarth's story. Edward was tragically injured in a car accident, suffering traumatic brain injury, causing severe cognitive impairments, sleep disturbance, and chronic fatigue. Due to his condition, Mr. Neubarth lost his career as a social worker for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Hartford denied his claim in significant part, based upon undercover surveillance video of him eating a sandwich with a friend and going to a store to look at a washing machine.
Good Morning America also featured Sherri Johnson who has suffered from fibromyalgia with a lupus variant for many years. Sherri worked as Senior System Analyst for Nextira One for several years for which she received an excellent salary. Hartford sent her to its own doctor for an evaluation and he confirmed her condition and determined that she was in fact disabled. Not satisfied with this, Hartford placed Sherri under video surveillance. The private investigator saw her eating at a restaurant and being driven around by another individual who ran a few errands while Sherri rested in the car. Similarly, Hartford sent its investigator to Sherri's home who aggressively questioned her about her condition and made accusations that she had lied about her limitations. Kimberly Howard also suffers from lupus and fibromyalgia. Kimberly previously enjoyed her career as a Business Strategy Manager, working for more than a decade for Fidelity National Financial. Kim took great pride in her work and her ability to financially provide for herself and her family with a salary exceeding six figures. Kimberly was also sent to Hartford's doctor who determined that she had significant limitations that he determined to be credible based upon her medical condition. However, based in large part on surveillance video showing Kimberly running a couple of errands and helping her disabled mother and hospitalized father, Hartford ignored its examining doctor and the opinions of Kimberly's multiple specialists and denied her claim. Interestingly, both Sherri and Kimberly were also determined to be unable to engage in any occupation by the Social Security Administration.
Another Hartford claimant featured was Debbi Andreu, who suffers from severe Temporomandibular ("TMJ") and Jaw Problems, chronic infections in the jaw region, failed lumbar surgery syndrome, severe Cervical Spine Problems, bilateral shoulder problems, chronic and severe sinus disease, Fuchs Cornial Dystrophy and other significant eye problems affecting her vision, Pineal Cyst, Prolapsed Mitral Valve Syndrome with atypical chest pain, diverticulosis coli; Chronic Hepatits; Hypoglycemia; Hyperlipidemia; Pancreatits; and other conditions. Ms. Andreu loved her job and during her 26 years at Sprint, worked her way up from the bottom to be a Central Office Technicial. Her multiple specialists and the Social security Administration have opined that she is disabled from all occupations. Despite this, Hartford denied Debbi's claim for continued benefits based in significant part on surveillance video showing her running a couple of errands and going to her mother's home. Most significant, the video also showed that after this brief activity, Debbi was unable to leave her mother's house to return home for several hours, and further showed no activity the following day. DI Law Group aggressively fought Hartford's denial of benefits and was successful in overturning Hartford's decision on administrative appeal.
Attorney Mindy Chmielarz explained to Good Morning America that there appears to be a clear pattern of intimidation on the part of Hartford. DI Law Group provided that insurance companies like Hartford utilize innocuous surveillance video to scare claimants into giving up their claims and not challenging unreasonable denials. It does not matter how benign the activity is on the video, when an insurance representative comes into a person's home to conduct an aggressive interrogation and make accusations of fraud, people become scared and intimidated. This is especially true when dealing with individuals with severe and disabling conditions. This is what Hartford is counting on.
Attorney Mindy Chmielarz explained that DI Law Group has received numerous calls and email inquiries from disabled claimants that have suffered similar treatment at the hands of Hartford. Accordingly, DI Law Group has initiated a complaint with the Florida Department of Financial Services, which is now investigating Hartford's claims practices since 2005. Attorney Mindy Chmielarz explains that DI Law Group is preparing similar complaints in several states nationwide. Accordingly, Hartford could face steep fines if it is determined that it is in fact engaging in deceptive and unfair insurance practices.
DI Law Group plans to continue their fight against Hartford. Attorney Mindy Chmielarz explained that the Firm will continue to challenge Hartford as long as it continues to employ a pattern of unreasonable intimidation tactics to deny disabled claimants the benefits they deserve.
Attorney Mindy Chmielarz is a partner with Disability Insurance Law Group which focuses on individual and group disability insurance claims at all stages of the claims process. The other founding partners include Attorneys Alicia Paulino-Grisham and Maggie Smith. For more information please visit: www.dilawgroup.com.
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