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One-Sided Unum

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Dover, DEOn a rainy morning in May 2002 Martha left her office at Verizon to go outside for a coffee. She suffered a serious injury and hasn't been able to use her right arm and subsequently work since. But Unum says that someone who has worked on a computer—that requires two hands—is not eligible for disability benefits. Unum, what does it take to be eligible? Do you have to be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of your life to qualify?

Unum VictimMartha was a manager for Verizon that rainy morning. "No maintenance crew was on duty and people had shaken their umbrellas on the floor," she says. "I slid into the elevator and threw up my arm so I didn't hit my head. I heard something pop and my arm immediately swelled--I had torn my ligaments. The ambulance took me to ER and I haven't been able to work since."

Martha's shoulder was 'frozen' and she was sent to an orthopedic surgeon. It took almost a year for Unum to approve an MRI and during that time, Martha was just getting a nerve block and pain killers.

"I got short term disability benefits from Unum—I had a policy through Verizon—but Unum cut me off in September. I was sent to Unum's medical examiner in December and he concluded that, although I had to see him again, I was capable of sedentary work but couldn't lift anymore than 5 lbs. How was I supposed to go back to work? I am right-handed and I did a lot of computer work. In other words, there was nothing in my job that was one-handed. Unum apparently was one-sided.

I appealed on my own because I couldn't afford an attorney. They said if I could prove that I had insurance for income protection plan for short and long term disability, they would look at my appeal.

Apparently managers were responsible to pay for their own insurance so in 2001, they sent out a letter saying if you had a spouse, you would be covered by this plan. My husband also worked for Verizon so I was covered. But when I call the benefits center, I would always get the run-around, saying they would 'look into it'.

Unum finally approved long term disability benefits on August 15, 2005. Then three weeks later they said I was disqualified because I had opted out of the program. But when I asked them to send documentation that I had opted out, it was the same brick wall again, nothing.

Verizon was a good company to work for and we were paid very well. The Unum adjustor who approved me said, 'Please don't give up because what Unum did is unethical.' "

In November 2002, a class action lawsuit was filed against First Unum (known as UnumProvident) alleging that the giant insurance company operates "disability denial factories," wrongly denying disability claims by its policyholders. The company also faced at least 2,500 individual suits filed by policyholders. The class action alleged that UnumProvident "illegally victimized, and continues to victimize, many thousands of disabled Americans."

Since that time, the court ordered Unum to re-evaluate the claims it has denied in recent years. So far, Unum has just tipped its iceberg regarding the amount of claims re-evaluted. If you have been denied benefits by Unum, you may want to seek legal help.



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