disability insurance

Long-Term Disability Lawsuit

Long-Term Disability Insurance Lawsuit

Long-Term Disability Lawsuit:

Expert insights from long-term disability lawyer Tim Louis.

Many of my long-term disability clients are under the mistaken belief that if they win at trial the judge will order the insurance company to pay my client one lump sum equivalent to the amount of each monthly payment multiplied by the number of months from the trial to the date of my client’s retirement. Unfortunately, this is not the case. If you win your long-term disability lawsuit the court will order your insurance company to begin paying you monthly. There will be no lump sum representing what is referred to as “future benefits”.

With the above in mind, I was quite interested in the Court of Appeal decision in a case approximately three years ago. The Plaintiff, Nadine Lydia Gascoigne, had successfully sued Desjardins Financial Security Life Assurance Company for her long-term disability benefits. Her lawyer had asked the trial judge to aware a lump sum for Ms. Gascoigne’s future benefits. The trial judge refused to do so and instead ordered Desjardins to begin making monthly payments. Her lawyer appealed the trial judge’s decision not to award a lump sum for future benefits.

The BC Court of Appeal turned down Ms. Gascoigne’s appeal. Here are two paragraphs from the BC Court of Appeal Decision:

[29] In short, in my view, the trial judge correctly found he was bound by Warrington, as we are, to find that a non-contracting beneficiary of a group policy is entitled to enforce the payment of benefits, but not entitled to terminate the group policy or accept the insurer’s repudiation.

[30] The appellant did not advance any basis other than fundamental breach of the policy as a ground upon which she might be entitled to a lump sum award. It is not necessary, therefore, for us to determine whether such an award can be made for the breach of a disability insurance contract and breach of the duty of good faith. However, in this case, two obstacles stood in the way of such an award. First, the bad faith established was not found to be such as to preclude continuing performance of the parties’ contractual obligations, and second, the appellant’s own expert witness testified that she has “not yet reached the point of maximal medical improvement”. Some further interventions were contemplated, and she would suffer “some degree of vocational disability” for “an unknown period of time”. There was clearly a basis for the judge to say the evidence did not establish that the appellant would remain disabled from any occupation. He could properly regard that as a reason not to grant any relief other than the declaratory order made with respect to continuing benefits.

This means that the law remains as it always has been – if you successfully sue your long-term disability company, you will not be awarded a lump sum for future benefits, but rather begin receiving monthly payments.

Read more about the long-term disability lawsuit case here:

Gascoigne v. Desjardins Financial Security Life Assurance Co. (c.o.b. Desjardins Insurance), [2020] B.C.J. No. 1821, 2020 BCCA 316, British Columbia Court of Appeal, November 3, 2020, M.E. Saunders, P.M. Willcock and G.B. Butler JJ.A.

 

Chronic Pain & Long-Term Disability Claims

Chronic Pain and Long-Term Disability Claims

Chronic Pain & Long-Term Disability Claims – Contact Tim Louis

Suffering injuries from an accident or mishap can be a frustrating experience. Ongoing chronic
pain some individuals experience is a general term but is a reality that numerous accident
victims have to learn to cope with even after fulfilling their medical treatments.

If you find it challenging to get through the workday and cannot fulfill your daily work-related
duties or function day-to-day, you are not alone. According to the Canadian Pain Task Force
Report (Sept 2020), an estimated 7.63 million, or 1 in 4 Canadians aged 15 or older, live with
chronic pain.

What is Chronic Pain?

Chronic pain is the result of changes within the nervous system. The nerves continue to fire and signal, leading to pain that remains long after an injury has healed. It may take weeks, months,or even years to completely heal. Lingering chronic pain can take control of your life and causefurther damage, especially to your mental state. Chronic pain can result from a musculoskeletal
injury, nervous system dysfunction, chronic diseases, and autoimmune disorders.

In 2019 chronic pain was recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a disease inits own right for the first time, resulting in updates to the latest (11th) version of the InternationalClassification of Diseases (ICD-11). This distinction is significant as it validates the struggle forthe millions of people around the world who are living with chronic pain.

Chronic pain is classified as chronic primary pain or chronic secondary pain. Acute pain is short-lived and typically lasts no more than 30-60 days, whereas chronic secondary pain can range in intensity and lasts from 6 months or longer.

Chronic Pain Education & Support

For more information, we highly suggest visiting Pain BC, a non-profit, helpful organization that
works to reduce the burden of chronic pain for individuals in BC. They empower people who live
with pain; providing them with a wide variety of helpful, informative resources and the support
required to enhance their well being: https://www.painbc.ca

The Most Common Claims Associated with Chronic Pain

Several injuries are commonly associated with long-term disability claims:

  • Neck pain
  • Lower back pain
  • Shoulder pain
  • Pain stemming from Fibromyalgia
  • Recurring headaches and migraines
  • Cancer pain
  • Arthritic pain
  • Musculoskeletal pain
  • Chronic migraines and headaches
  • Pain associated with Lupus
  • Chest pain
  • Abdominal pain

Symptoms of chronic pain include:

  • Burning sensation
  • Sensitivity to touch, cold, heat, and more
  • Flare-ups
  • Dull Ache
  • Throbbing
  • Soreness
  • Stiffness

What Causes Chronic Pain?

  • Repetitive stress injury, including carpal or cubital tunnel problems
  • Respiratory problems
  • Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) and fibromyalgia
  • Neurological problems
  • Loss of hearing and vision
  • Chronic pain after a motor vehicle accident

Filing a Long Term Disability Claim for Chronic Pain

If chronic pain has affected your ability to continue working, you may have the option of
receiving long-term disability benefits if you are covered under such a policy through your
employer. You must however present verification that chronic pain has resulted in the inability to
continue working. The evidence required depends on the nature of your condition and any other
associated ailments.

What You Need to Provide for Filing a Long-Term Disability Claim

To file a disability claim for chronic pain, you must document your symptoms and experiences
and discuss them with a medical professional. Your doctor will assess your medical history and
order x rays, tests, and/or scans to determine if there is joint or tissue damage that may explain
your pain.

Examples of documentation that may be required:

  • Any physician statements and an official diagnosis
  • A journal documenting your pain over time
  • Test results
  • Information about your history of treatment
  • Witness statements from family, friends, and or co-workers who can attest to your
    condition affecting your ability to work and function day-to-day.
  • Any accidental reports

Our Law Firm Provides Results-Oriented Representation for Even the Most Complex Cases.

Do not give up hope if your long-term disability benefits have been denied. If you have been
experiencing chronic pain that has affected your ability to function personally or professionally
and would like to discuss legal options, the compassionate team at Tim Louis Law & Company
will provide you with a free, no-obligation evaluation. We represent clients in a broad range of
injury claims and will take all necessary steps to obtain fair and full compensation for injuries.

Contact us today by calling 604-732-7678 or email us at timlouis@timlouislaw.com

Sources:


https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/corporate/about-health-canada/public-engagement/ext
ernal-advisory-bodies/canadian-pain-task-force/report-2020.html

https://www.iasp-pain.org/PublicationsNews/NewsDetail.aspx?ItemNumber=8340

Undercompensation of Mental Distress Damages in Disability Insurance

disability insurance - mental distress undercompensation

Disability Insurance: Undercompensation of Mental Distress Damages

Insights into Disability Insurance undercompensation by Long-Term Disability Lawyer Tim Louis

Introduction

Disability insurance is contractual in nature. When a disability insurer denies benefits to a disabled claimant, the claimant may sue for breach of contract to recover the benefits. Additionally, the claimant may seek mental distress damages, punitive damages, and special costs. Mental distress damages are intended as compensation for the claimant’s psychological injury; punitive damages are intended to punish the insurer’s misconduct; and special costs are awarded only in unique circumstances.

This article focuses on mental distress damages. As these damages are compensatory, they are comparable in nature to damages for psychological injuries in tort; yet, mental injuries have given rise to substantially higher quantum awards in tort claims than in disability insurance cases. This disparity is only partially explained by disability insurance claimants’ pre-existing conditions. In this article, we examine this disparity and the case law through which it has arisen, and propose that this disparity has no principled basis.

Contract and Tort Law: Similar Compensatory Principles

Hadley v. Baxendale (1854), 9 Ex. 341 [Hadley], a decision of the Court of Exchequer Chamber, provided that where one party had breached a contract, the other party could claim compensatory damages arising “from such breach of contract itself, or such as may reasonably be supposed to have been in the contemplation of both parties, at the time they made the contract, as the probable result of the breach of it.”

In Fidler v. Sun Life Assurance Co. of Canada, 2006 SCC 30 [Fidler], the court applied the principles of Hadley to a disability insurance contract. The court reasoned that disability insurance contracts are “peace of mind” contracts: the insured party has entered the contract for the tangible benefit of financial payments if disabled, but also for the intangible psychological benefit of having a reasonable expectation of income security. Both parties would have reasonably contemplated these benefits at the time they made the contract. As such, if an insurer wrongfully withheld disability benefit payments, the insured’s mental distress arising from their loss of income security would be compensable, following the principle set out in Hadley.

Psychological injuries are compensable in tort claims through non-pecuniary damages. The courts have implied that the mental distress damages arising from breach of contract should be the same as those arising through a tort claim. In Mustapha v. Culligan of Canada Ltd., 2008 SCC 27 [Mustapha], the court stated with respect to damages that “[w]ith regards to Mr. Mustapha’s psychiatric injury, there is no inconsistency in principle or in outcome between negligence law and contract law.” This was followed in Lau v. Royal Bank of Canada, 2017 BCCA 253 [Lau], with the court stating “[t]he test for mental distress damages is, in principle, the same in contract and in tort.”

In Saadati v. Moorhead, 2017 SCC 28 [Saadati], the court determined that a psychiatric diagnosis was not a prerequisite for compensation for psychological injuries in tort law. The court reasoned that the damages awarded for mental injury are not based on the injured party’s diagnosis, but rather on that party’s symptoms and their effects (para 31). While Saadati was based on a tort claim, its reasoning was adopted and applied in Lau for mental distress arising from a breach of contract.

Contract and Tort Law: Similar Tests for Psychological Damages

Where an insurer has wrongfully denied disability benefits, the test for whether to award mental distress damages is provided in Fidler at paragraph 47:

The court must be satisfied: (1) that an object of the contract was to secure a psychological benefit that brings mental distress upon breach within the reasonable contemplation of the parties; and (2) that the degree of mental suffering caused by the breach was of a degree sufficient to warrant compensation

The test for whether to award damages in negligence is set out in Mustapha at paragraph 3:

A successful action in negligence requires that the plaintiff demonstrate (1) that the defendant owed him a duty of care; (2) that the defendant’s behaviour breached the standard of care; (3) that the plaintiff sustained damage; and (4) that the damage was caused, in fact and in law, by the defendant’s breach.

These are very similar tests. Firstly, there must be a breach, whether of a contractual duty to pay disability benefits, or of a common law duty.

Secondly, there must be sufficient damage sustained to warrant compensation. In the tort claim in Mustapha, the court set stated that for psychological injury to be compensable, it must be “serious and prolonged and rise above the ordinary annoyances, anxieties and fears that people living in society routinely, if sometimes reluctantly, accept” (para 9). Similarly, the court in Fidler stated it must be “of a degree sufficient to warrant compensation” (para 47). As noted in Saadati and Lau, this will not necessarily require expert medical evidence.

Finally, the damages must be caused in fact and in law by the breach. In Mustapha, the court found that the plaintiff’s psychological injuries must be a reasonably foreseeable result of the defendant’s breach of its duty of care in order to meet the test for legal causation. The court in Fidler, applying the principles of Hadley, applied a test of whether damages arising would have been in the reasonable contemplation of the parties; this is quite similar to the reasonable foreseeability test in Mustapha.

Contract and Tort Law: Different Quantum Ranges

In Asselstine v. Manufacturers Life Insurance Co., 2005 BCCA 292 [Asselstine], the court reviewed previous awards for mental distress damages in disability insurance, and found they typically ranged between $10,000 – $20,000. The court upheld the trial judge’s award of $35,000, finding this amount to be at the upper end of the range for mental distress damages.

In contrast to Asselstine, tort cases in BC have provided a significantly wider range of damages for psychological injuries. In Hans v. Volvo Trucks North America Inc., 2016 BCSC 1155, the plaintiff in a motor vehicle accident claim suffered debilitating and long-lasting PTSD and Major Depressive Disorder, though he did not sustain any physical injuries. He was awarded $265,000 in his tort claim. In Saadati, the plaintiff in a motor vehicle accident was awarded $100,000 in non-pecuniary damages for his tort claim for psychological injuries alone, despite having significant pre-existing chronic pain and minimal pre-accident income.

In claims for mental distress damages in disability insurance cases, there is the obvious hurdle that the plaintiff will have significant pre-existing conditions – enough to be disabled from working. However, even accounting for this, the courts in BC have awarded quite conservative damages.

In Gascoigne v Desjardins Financial Security Life Assurance Company (Desjardins Insurance), 2019 BCSC 1241, aff’d on other grounds 2020 BCCA 316, the plaintiff initially developed a physical disability. The insurer denied her disability benefit payments. The plaintiff eventually developed depression and anxiety, largely “related to the financial pressures she and her family felt when the plaintiff stopped bringing home an income” (para 36). As a result of the denial of disability benefits, the plaintiff went from being happy and optimistic to withdrawn and distressed about finances. She became less able to cope with the demands of daily life. She separated from her husband and was expecting to divorce. Despite these significant impacts on her life, largely brought about by the insurer’s breach of contract, she was awarded only $30,000 for mental distress.

In Tanious v. The Empire Life Insurance Company, 2016 BCSC 110, aff’d on other grounds 2019 BCCA 329, leave to appeal to SCC refused, the plaintiff was denied disability benefit payments. She had significant disabling conditions, including multiple sclerosis, depression, and anxiety, and she had used illicit methamphetamines to try to cope with her disabling conditions. The insurer’s denial of her disability benefits made her living situation substantially worse. She could not afford good housing or food, and at times could not even have her soiled clothes washed. She had worked hard and paid for her insurance, and she felt she was being looked upon as a liar and a criminal when the insurer rejected her claim. She was awarded a mere $15,000 in mental distress damages.

There may be room to expand the range of mental distress damages in disability insurance claims. The court in Godwin v Desjardins Financial Security Investments Inc., 2018 BCSC 99 stated at paragraph 169:

Had the defendant been responsible for the entirety of the plaintiff’s psychiatric symptoms, an appropriate award may have been in an amount somewhat higher than the $70,000 to $80,000 contended for by the plaintiff. In the present case, the award must reflect the fact that Desjardins’ conduct only marginally aggravated Ms. Godwin’s illness. I award damages for mental distress in the amount of $30,000.

This judgment reflects that future awards for mental distress in disability insurance may come closer to those in personal injury torts. Additionally, in Greig v Desjardins Financial Security Life Assurance Company, 2019 BCSC 1758 the court awarded $50,000 in mental distress damages, though the case is currently under appeal. The majority of cases, however, continue to assess damages within the range set out in Asselstine, despite acknowledging that this range is “modest” (C.P. v. RBC Life Insurance Company, 2015 BCCA 30 at para 65).

Conclusion

The gap in psychological damage awards between disability insurance claims and tort claims is worthy of further examination in the courts. Both areas of law aim to provide compensation for the same types of injury, and the courts have recognized that damages in contract and tort should be similar. To prevent arbitrary distinctions, previous case law setting out a “modest” range of damages in disability insurance cases should not be given undue weight. Instead, case law on psychological damages in both disability insurance and in tort should be considered of equal precedential value with respect to future awards of damages for mental distress.

Scroll to top