Certain Underwriters at Lloyd’s London insurance company took almost two years to make a decision regarding a doctor’s disability application for benefits. When he sued, the Court stayed the suit until an arbitration panel could review his claim. This article discusses the how the final disability benefit award was finally settled.

Most people don’t think of cardiologists developing heart conditions. It is far more common than most people realize.

Dr. Zev Lagstein held a disability policy with Certain Underwriters at Lloyd’s, London. The policy required Lloyd’s to pay him $15,000 per month for up to 60 months if he lost his ability to practice medicine due to a disability.

When he developed complications from heart disease, including severe migraine headaches and other neurological problems he applied for benefits. He supported his claim with the opinions of several physicians who concluded after examination that he was permanently disabled from practicing not only as a cardiologist but as a physician.

Months passed without Lloyd’s reaching a decision. Lagstein went back to work against his doctor’s advice, which only complicated matters. Finally after almost two years had passed since he filed his long term disability claim, Lagstein sued. The policy mandated binding arbitration, so Lloyd’s moved that the case be stayed until a three – member arbitration panel issued its decision. A arbitration panel found Lloyd’s in the wrong and awarded Lagstein more than $6 million to cover policy benefits, emotional distress damages and punitive damages. Lloyd’s responded to this decision by filing a motion to vacate the arbitration award.

The motion was heard before the U.S. District Court, District of Nevada. The judge sitting on the bench was shocked by the size of the award and used this as his primary reason for vacating the decision of the arbitration panel. He also vacated the punitive damages the arbitrators entered as being outside its jurisdiction. Lagstein appealed.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found that the District Court did not have the authority to vacate an arbitration award just because it disagreed with the size of the award. See Collins v. D.R. Horton, Inc. Rather proof that the arbitration panel had exceeded its powers, was necessary. The Court found that § 10 of the Federal Arbitration Act does not sanction judicial review of the merits behind an arbitration award. The District Court had stepped outside the scope the law gives the Court in these matters.

Lloyds argued that the arbitration board had manifestly disregarded the law, yet could produce no evidence to demonstrate this. In Kyocera, the Court had found that an award is completely irrational "only where the arbitration decision fails to draw its essence from the agreement." Lloyd’s claimed the issue was the fact that Lagstein was not disabled because he had returned to work. Thus the panel’s findings were irrational.

The Court of Appeals did not find the arbitration panel’s findings irrational. The majority of the panel had found that Lloyd’s violated the policy’s "referee provision" by hiring a physician of its own choosing while failing to inform him of the import of this action. The majority also found that he was disabled thus Lanstein was entitled to benefits, whether Lloyd’s agreed with these conclusions or not.

The Court of Appeals also found fault with the District Court’s finding vacating the punitive damages which were awarded by the panel after they had issued their initial arbitration award. The panel had requested an extension of an additional 15 days in which to submit its initial award. Both parties agreed. The filing occurred before the deadline with punitive damages set to be determined at a later date. Nothing in Lagstein’s policy expressly withdrew determination of procedural issues from the panel, so the panel was within its rights to set another hearing for determining what punitive damages, if any, would be awarded.

Both rulings by the District Court were vacated and Lloyd was ordered to pay over 6 million dollars to Dr. Lagstein.

About the author: Gregory Michael Dell is an attorney and managing partner of the disability income division of Attorneys Dell & Schaefer. Mr. Dell and his team of lawyers have assisted thousands of long-term disability claimants with their claims against every major disability insurance company. To request a free legal consultation call 800-411-9085.