Legal Memorandum: Determination of AD&D Benefits

Issue: How does a court determine what benefits are available under an accidental death and dismemberment policy??

Area of Law: Employee Law, Insurance Law
Keywords: Accidental death and dismemberment benefits (AD&D); ERISA plan
Jurisdiction: Federal
Cited Cases: 129 F.3d 1390; 112 F.3d 460; 927 F.2d 1540; 95 F.3d 1505; 978 F.2d 622
Cited Statutes: None
Date: 07/01/2000

An AD&D insurance policy providing insurance is considered an “employee welfare benefit plan” under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”).  As a general matter, a policy providing such benefits is an ERISA plan because a reasonable person can determine the intended benefits, the beneficiary class, the plan’s financing source, and the procedure for receipt of benefits, and the extent of the employer’s participation indicates an intent to provide an ERISA‑regulated plan.  Gaylor v. John Hancock Mut. Life Ins. Co., 112 F.3d 460, 464-65 (10th Cir. 1997).  The court reviews de novo under 28 U.S.C.A. ‘ 1132(a)(1)(B) (West 1999) the defendant’s denial of benefits.  Gaylor, 112 F.3d at 466 (holding that the insurer’s grounds for denying the plaintiff’s AD&D benefits were inadequate).  The district court will apply a reasonableness standard.  Semtner v. Group Health Serv. of Okla., Inc., 129 F.3d 1390, 1393 (10th Cir. 1997).  When the employer’s or insurer’s interpretation of the plan is not reasonable, the court will find its decision limiting or denying benefits to be unreasonable.  Id. at 1393. The court will construe unambiguous plan documents as a matter of law.  Chiles v. Ceridian Corp., 95 F.3d 1505, 1511 (10th Cir. 1996).

Initially, the court looks to the plan itself to resolve questions as to the scope of benefits.  Id. at 1515.  When the court cannot determine the sponsor’s intent by the plan itself, the court looks to the summary plan document (“SPD”), […]

Subscribe to Litigation Pathfinder

To get the full-text of this Legal Memorandum ... and more!

(Month-to-month and annual subscriptions available)