Elizabeth Hopkins, a partner at Kantor & Kantor, LLP, was a part of the team that recently obtained a favorable decision from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, concluding that a widow could hold her deceased husband’s employer accountable for its actions in preventing her from obtaining the life insurance under her husband’s ERISA-covered benefit plan.
Specifically, although the employer, National Counseling Group (NCG), collected premiums for the life insurance coverage from the husband until the time of his death, it never told him that when he began to work part-time, he became ineligible under the plan but could convert his coverage to an individual policy.
After he died, NCG told his widow not to pursue her claim against the insurance company because it was going to pay her the full benefits, even though it later refused to do so. Despite these misdeeds, the trial judge dismissed the case after concluding that NCG owed no fiduciary duty to either the decedent or his widow.
Kantor & Kantor attorneys, who are ERISA litigation specialists, took over the case for the appeal. They argued that the trial judge’s ruling was wrong because NCG was named as a fiduciary and plan administrator in the governing documents and, as such, NCG was required to give accurate and complete information to both the decedent and his widow.
The appellate court agreed and issued a published decision, which clarified the law in the Fourth Circuit regarding the fiduciary status and duties under employee benefit plans.
This decision applies to all participants and beneficiaries in employee benefit plans in the Fourth Circuit, which covers Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. It is also likely to be helpful to participants and beneficiaries nationwide.
The decision is Dawson-Murdock v. National Counseling Group, Inc., _F.3d_, 2019 WL 3308535 (4th Cir. 2019).