Employees in Chicago and all of Illinois who have ongoing claims for long-term disability benefits often are concerned the long-term disability insurer monitors their activities through surveillance. They worry engaging in any physical activity, like swimming or other exercise can defeat their claim. Whether or not any exercise or other physical activity negatively affects your claim really depends on whether or not you disclose it to the insurer, and the purpose of it. In once recent case, an insured who swam and climbed stairs at a health club received no skepticism from the court.
In Snapper v. Unum Life Insurance Co. of America, No. 1:21-cv-2116, 2023 WL 2539242 (N.D. Ill. Mar. 16, 2023), Snapper, an attorney, had a history of back and leg problems, worsened in a 2016 car accident. He began taking leaves of absence from work for his lumbar radiculopathy until stopping work altogether in 2019 to claim long-term disability. Unum initially approved the claim while Snapper underwent a series of spinal surgeries. Rather than help, though, the surgeries worsened the symptoms of back and leg pain. Unum terminated Snapper’s benefits in 2020. After Snapper unsuccessfully appealed, he sued under ERISA § 502(a).
The United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois granted judgment in Snapper’s favor. Unum argued Snapper’s swimming and stair climbing demonstrated his symptoms were not as severe as Snapper claimed. The court noted, however, that Snapper consistently disclosed these activities to Unum and his doctors. The court even highlighted that part of Snapper’s prescribed therapy for his injuries was aquatic therapy and exercise. The court distinguished cases where claimants engaged in activities beyond their reported capabilities, and found Snapper’s therapeutic exercise immaterial to the question of his disability.
If you have a long-term disability claim and wonder about how engaging in therapeutic exercise will affect your claim, speak to an experienced ERISA long-term disability lawyer right away.