Teresa, a legal secretary in a large corporate law firm, collected short-term disability benefits from Unum when she was diagnosed with colitis but returned to work in January of this year. She lasted until August. “It was so horrible and embarrassing trying to work and having to wear ‘Depends,’” she says. “For instance, I would be on the phone with a client and have to go [meaning a bowel movement] in my pants. Then my mother-in-law got sick so I asked my bosses to give me a leave of absence but they refused because they didn’t know how long she would live for. We eventually put her in hospice, and after she died, I was so stressed out with my illness and her death, I couldn’t go back to work.”
That is when Teresa applied for social security disability benefits and was accepted, with 18 months of back pay. “From the time I applied for social security until I received my first check just took three months,” she explains. Likely because of her legal experience, Teresa had all her ducks in a row: she did everything the social security application required; she knew where to dot the i’s and cross the t’s.
It didn’t even dawn on Teresa to apply for Unum benefits because she wasn’t working and figured she wasn’t covered. Then about a year after she left the firm, Teresa ran into an attorney friend who she used to work with. “He was surprised that I was living on social security benefits and told me that my Unum policy would cover me for long-term disability,” she explains. “And why not? I had been paying Unum out of pocket for 18 years and my doctor had deemed me disabled.”
But Unum doesn’t care that Teresa had paid her premiums for 18 years or 18 months. Unum told her she didn’t apply in a “timely manner,” but its definition of time is vague. Unum states the following:
Whenever possible, notify Unum (toll-free at 1-866-762-8702), your leave coordinator and your manager at least thirty (30) days prior to or as soon as practicable of the occurrence of a planned or foreseeable illness or injury. If you are unable to call Unum due to your disability, someone else can call on your behalf.
“Wherever possible” could be interpreted as “whenever.” It does not specify a certain cut-off date, say, 90 days after you “plan” an illness or “foresee” an injury.
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Unfortunately, there is a statute of limitations and Teresa has a letter from Unum regarding strict time limitations. “It is imperative that I do not delay in moving this matter forward on my own or with other counsel,” Teresa adds. “I haven’t calculated how much Unum owes me but I know it is 60 percent of my salary. I paid premiums of about $120 per month for the entire time I worked at the law firm. I am more than frustrated with Unum and of course with myself for not applying sooner. I hope anyone reading this will learn from my mistake and file with Unum sooner than later. Leave yourself plenty of time to find an attorney and appeal if need be. And very likely you will need to.”