Initially, Jane Fitts had been paid disability benefits because her bipolar condition prevented her from working. After 24 months of receiving disability payments they suddenly stopped. The reason given is that the insurance company considered the bipolar disorder a ‘mental illness’ and as such she is no longer entitled to disability benefits. Fitts sued.
The courts dismissed all of her claims except the portion that pertained to the Employment Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). The reason given is that ERISA requires unambiguous language to be used and in this situation the defendants did not meet this burden. Fitts’ attorneys felt they were on solid ground and pursued her claim against Unum Life Insurance Company.
After several years of litigation the United States District Court for the District of Columbia ruled in Fitts favor. The decision was based on several factors which included:
- Both her brother and father showed signs of the disorder.
- Brain scans showed abnormal activity.
- Her symptoms included headaches, chest pains, and insomnia—all of which are related to her bipolar condition.
This is a significant case because of the implications for discrimination by insurers against mental health problems. Insurance companies take advantage of the fact that when a person thinks about disability they think only about physical disability. A case in point is that most people assume that their disability insurance covers both physical and mental disabilities. In fact it is rare to find mental conditions to be part of a disability policy.
Another case soon to be heard by the Supreme Court of British Columbia involves actor Anthony Michael Hall’s failure to disclose his bipolar disorder, which resulted in production of The Dead Zone being shuttered from May to August, 2001. The insurance company that posted the completion bond for the production company is attempting to recoup the $612,000 they paid the production company.