Ms. Garmon’s Disability Claim
Pamela Jean Garmon (“Ms. Garmon”) worked as a registered nurse for nearly 30 years, spending the last 18 years of her career at Baptist Medical Center in Cherokee County. Ms. Garmon became disabled due to fibromyalgia, insomnia, and depression in January of 2002. Following a visit with her treating provider on January 2, 2001, she gave her two-week notice and worked through January 23rd. Ms. Garmon filed her disability claim with Liberty on March 14, 2002, which was denied. Liberty claimed Ms. Garmon became disabled the day after she last worked -- or January 24, 2002 -- when she n longer had disability coverage.
Ms. Garmon appealed, explaining that her treating physician found her disabled as of January 2, 2002, although she worked beyond that date and the Social Security Administration approved her disability claim effective January 24, 2002. She provided letters from multiple treating physicians describing her ailments going back to 2001. Liberty denied Ms. Garmons’ appeal on July 2, 2002.
Ms. Garmon sought legal counsel, who submitted additional medical evidence to Liberty in March 2004. Liberty again denied Ms. Garmon’s claim, determining that she was not covered as of her last date of employment and she was not disabled before January 24, 2002. Ms. Garmon filed a lawsuit under ERISA.
District Court’s Decision
The District Court of Alabama disagreed with Liberty’s reasons for denying Ms. Garmon’s disability benefits. First, the court found Liberty’s claim that Ms. Garmon only became disabled after her termination was wrong and opportunistic. Second, Liberty’s argument that Ms. Garmon could not be disabled while working, was also wrong based on the medical evidence. The court found that a person’s “date of disability cannot be calibrated so finely.” As a result, the district court found in favor of Ms. Garmon and awarded her disability benefits, costs, and attorney’s fees.
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