In April of 1992 John suffered a serious industrial accident at work. “At the end of a long print run I was cleaning the press with industrial chemicals and they ate through my gloves,” says John. “After several hours it absorbed into the pours of my skin—I fell down and woke up in hospital.”
John had been exposed to about 15 or so potentially hazardous chemicals. He tried to go back to work but the smells of the chemicals made him too sick. “I was having allergic reactions,” John explains, “and to this day I can’t be around any chemicals without getting migraine headaches; I can’t even pump my own gas without getting sick. And I also got very depressed because I couldn’t return to work.”
Unum acknowledged John’s disability—the world’s biggest insurance company couldn’t very well ignore state doctors and their own independent medical examiners. John also went to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and had radiation injections, a number of MRIs and a litany of tests. He was deemed 100 percent disabled because of his debilitating migraines.
But true to form, Unum made his life hell.
“Unum paid me off and on for four years after the accident,” says John. “They sent me $2,500 per month then they would stop payments—usually every six months or so--without any warning. I would get a letter instead of a check, telling me in so many words that I was no longer disabled. Then I got my Unum lawyer and doctors to send more documentation. Unum would then send me retroactive pay—it was the only way I survived. Every time I had to appeal they would start paying me again. It was ridiculous.
“Doctors kept putting me back on disability and Unum kept reviewing my case. I often drove hundreds of miles to see their doctors—very dangerous given my condition. Often when driving I had to pull over and wait out the migraine; there wasn’t anything else I could do. I am on pain and anxiety meds, and psychotic meds. Nothing really works.”
In 1997 Unum stopped all communication with John—they ignored his appeals. Acting on the advice of his Unum attorney, John had applied to Social Security back in 1992, when Unum first denied him. Social Security would be his safety valve, something he could rely on. He was approved to collect social security benefits in 1994. “If I am not disabled in Unum’s eyes, how can I get approved by social security?” John wonders.
His Social Security medical record spans a few pages. John has been diagnosed with the following, according to Social Security medical examiners, which Unum believes he can work with:
Migraine headaches; psychological stress reaction with stress intolerance; dizziness with symptoms triggered by exposure to fumes and solvent materials; Allergies and major affective disorder and these impairments prevent the claimant from sustaining competitive activities; Chronic headaches, fatigue, nausea vomiting crying spells, depressed mood; difficulty concentrating and thinking, poor memory, insomnia, sensitive to light and difficulty being near dust and fumes and psychiatric limitations.
John says there are two more pages of medical documentation from Social Security…
“My attorney did help me appeal—several times-- but I don’t remember what happened,” John says. “It is very hard for me to keep track. People look at me like I am crazy half the time. It doesn’t bother me so much but I feel bad for my kids.” John has three children, aged 14, eight and seven. “My wife left just after our third child was born. I wasn’t able to be the good supporter after I became disabled.
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There are many more people like John, which is why Unum is the second-worst insurance company in America, according to the American Association for Justice. And according to Linda Nee, a former Unum claims handler. “Unum got me so stressed out, it just fed into my depression and suicidal thoughts,” says John. “It is one bad company.”