Unum Owes Legals Fees in Denied Benefits Case

     LOS ANGELES (CN) – A woman who was wrongfully denied disability insurance benefits can recover $119,000 in attorneys’ fees from Unum Life Insurance Co. of America, a federal judge ruled.
     Tanya Mondolo filed a single claim for relief against the giant disability insurance company under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. After a bench trial, the court found in favor of plaintiff on Jan. 16, 2013.
     Courthouse News records show Unum has been sued over its denial of benefits more than 500 times in the last three years.
     In Mondolo’s case, U.S. District Judge Christina Snyder ordered Unum to pay $119,000 in attorneys’ fees for Mondolo’s four attorneys of Kantor & Kantor, as well as $1,756 in nonstatutory costs.
     Snyder looked at the following five factors when determining whether to award attorney’s fees: “(1) the degree of the opposing party’s culpability or bad faith; (2) the ability of the opposing party to satisfy an award of fees; (3) whether an award of fees against the opposing party would deter others from acting under similar circumstances; (4) whether the party requesting fees sought to benefit all participants and beneficiaries of an ERISA plan or to resolve a significant legal question regarding ERISA; and (5) the relative merits of the parties’ positions.”
     She found that, when applied to this case, the factors support a fee award.
     “As plaintiff points out, the court found that Unum acted irrationally and illogically when it denied benefits, and in the context of this case, that conduct is culpable,” the March 18 ruling states.
     Snyder also agreed with Mondolo that “awarding fees in this case reinforced the federal policy in favor of holding benefit claim administrators to a high standard of integrity.”
     Mondolo requested $135,000 to cover her legal fees, but Unum argued that the figure relied on an inflated hourly rate as well as for an excessive number of hours. It said $50,000 would be more reasonable.
     After examining evidence from both parties, Snyder reduced the number of hours worked by two of the attorneys and lowered the rate charged by one attorney to come up with the final amount of $119,000. The fees were awarded as follows: $2,880 to Glenn Kantor, $43,860 to Alan Kassan, $71,960 to Brent Brehm and $390 to Niamh Doherty.

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