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Attorney Fees and ERISA (Short Term Disability, Long Term Disability and Medical Benefits)

In most cases, Courts follow the so-called “American Rule,” which provides that each party generally pays its own attorneys’ fees and costs.  However, the Court may not apply that rule in certain types of Short Term Disability, Long Term Disability and other “ERISA” cases.   Many of these types of claims (at least where the benefit is provided through an employer) fall under a federal law called ERISA, or the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974.  In most ERISA lawsuits, the court may award reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs to either party.  Until (fairly) recently, the courts were split on whether only prevailing parties were eligible for fees and costs in wrongful benefit denial cases.  In 2010, the Supreme Court in Hardt v. Reliance Standard Life Insurance Company, 130 S. Ct. 2149 (2010), held that the ERISA fee-shifting provision contained in 29 U.S.C. § 1132(g)(1) does not require a fee claimant to be the “prevailing party.” Instead, the Court focused on whether the party seeking fees achieved “some degree of success on the merits.”

What does  “some” success on the merits mean?  According to the Supreme Court, one must only achieve more than a “trivial success on the merits” or a “purely procedural victory.”

While this is a vague standard, it does offer some hope to those who have been denied much needed short term disability or long term disability benefits!

At Silvern & Bulger, PC we have been handling these cases for years.  We always work hard to see that our client’s achieve as much success as possible, including recovering attorney fees.  We also understand that most people can not afford to pay an attorney out-of-pocket.  We therefore offer contingent fees on most short term disability, long term disability and ERISA cases.  For a free consultation contact us today at 303-292-0044.

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