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"I Got Stung by Unum"

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Douglasville, GAVernon, who had a kidney transplant in 1995 when he was 33 years old, just came home from dialysis where he goes three times a week, four hours a day. He is the father of six children (the youngest is seven); his wife was laid off last year and is looking for work. Times are tough: A few years ago Vernon claimed bankruptcy—he had no choice—because Unum (formerly UnumProvident) stopped paying his long term disability policy, reasoning that he was able to go back to work!

Vernon was employed at Georgia Power for 22 years and was making $50,000 by 1999. But in 1994 he kept getting a cold, which was very unusual. Vernon never drank or smoked and thought he was in good shape. "I finally went to my doctor and my blood pressure was 240/180," he says. "He gave me a nitroglycerin pill to lower my blood pressure and now I know why it is the silent killer—I found out that I had kidney failure…

"I went back to work after I had the transplant, but in 1999, I had to apply for long term disability benefits due to complications with the transplant. UnumProvident—as Unum was called back then—paid me $2,163.00 per month, but after just one year, they sent me a letter, informing me that they were canceling my policy. They told me that Georgia Power was going to 'accommodate' me—meaning that the company would put me in a new position and keep me employed. I immediately called James Miller, the disability manager. He informed me that my job was not going to be accommodated or modified in any way; in other words I couldn't return to work."

Vernon was a senior storekeeper, which entailed physical work such as forklift driving and picking up heavy boxes. Clearly, he was unable to return to his former job. (He also retained an attorney who said he could file a complaint against Georgia Power under the Americans with Disabilities Act, but the attorney disappeared; Vernon reported him to the Georgia Bar Association and one year later found out he had been disbarred.)

Why would Unum tell Vernon that Georgia Power had a position for him? Is it possible that Unum lied to Vernon, that it was yet another example of bad faith practices that the biggest insurance company in the US is notoriously known for?

"I called Unum back and told them what Jim Miller at Georgia Power said," explains Vernon. "The Unum rep told me that it doesn't matter what anyone says because 'We have them on file saying you can go back to work,' she said. I couldn't believe it.

"I immediately appealed Unum's decision and then filed for social security benefits—they were quick to cover me. Then in June of 2001, I got a letter from Unum, saying they were giving me back pay. But I didn't get a dime. I tried to call Unum but didn't get anywhere so I hired an attorney but he wasn't experienced with insurance and that didn't go anywhere either.

"Then I noticed that people in California who had been denied long term disability by Unum had filed a class action lawsuit and another class action was going to be filed in Georgia. I am hoping that I can get an experienced attorney this time to help me join the Unum lawsuit. Right now things are tough but I'm just doing the best I can, and hope…"

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