LymeNet Law Pages
Case History Document

Velliquette v. Unum Life Insurance Co. of America, et al
Entered By: Ira M Maurer/LymeNetDate Created: 10/20/97
Document Type: Other
Title: Newspaper article about case
Lyme Disease Victim Sues Over Benefit Cut

By Larry Mitchell
Staff Writer, Enterprise, Chico, CA (10/16/97)

One of the organizers of a local Lyme disease support group has filed a suit claiming an insurance company wrongly cut off her disability benefits.

"With any illness that can't be clearly defined by a blood test, you'll find insurance companies denying claims," said Lynn Velliquette of Magalia, who is suing UNUM Life
Insurance Co. of America.

The suit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court earlier this month, says UNUM officials tried to classify Velliquettes's ailments as mental rather than physical so they could deny her benefits.

Further the suit accuses local psychologist Ladd McDonald of conspiring with the insurance company in its plan to deny Velliquette's benefits. McDonald is named as one of many defendants.

The suit states the insurance company deceived Velliquette, cut off her benefits without
justification and stalled her efforts to appeal. It says UNUM, McDonald and other defendants should be ordered to pay Velliquette punitive and compensatory damages to be determined in court.

Officials from the insurance firm and McDonald could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Velliquette said she developed Lyme disease after she was bitten by an infected tick in
Paradise in 1993. Lyme disease is a bacterial illness transmitted by certain ticks. Over time, it attacks many of the body's systems and causes a variety of symptoms.

{Explanation of symptoms and disability leave from her full-time job as a clerical assistant to the fire marshal of Paradise omitted}

Velliquette applied for disability benefits from UNUM, the town's insurer. Initially, the firm honored her claim.

The Magalia woman said she had a six-week course of antibiotics, but her symptoms persisted. Her doctor said she was cured of Lyme disease but that she was now suffering from fibromyalgia.

Her attorney, Patrick O'Hara of Santa Barbara, said although her condition grew worse Velliquette agreed to UNUM's request to go back to work part-time with the assurance she would continue to get partial payment of benefits.

Next, the company had Velliquette see a psychologist, Dr. McDonald, in an effort to show that her problems were psychological and not physical, the suit said.

"Although there was no immediate change in plaintiff's disability benefits following that
explanation, plaintiff is informed and believes that UNUM demanded that examination as a first step in constructing a pretextual basis for denial of plaintiff's benefits and that defendant McDonald was aware of UNUM's plan and providing a paper basis on which UNUM could terminate benefits," the suit said.

In the fall of 1995, the suit said, Paradise was having financial problems and as a result,
Velliquette was laid off from her part-time job with the animal control department. After that, UNUM declared she was ineligible for any benefits.

The complaint said UNUM acted wrongly in a number of ways, including:

O'Hara said a number of insurance companies have tried in some cases to deny benefits for people suffering from illnesses like fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome and Lyme disease. "Some of these illnesses are difficult to diagnose. They have multiple symptoms and they're relatively new," said O'Hara. Some insurance companies tend to not want to recognize them, he added.

{Statements by Velliquette on lack of knowledge omitted]...She's had antibiotics for
about a year and is finally overcoming her symptoms, she said.

Earlier this year, Velliquette said she and Sue Caldwell of Paradise, whose daughter has Lyme disease, started the Butte County Lyme Disease Support Group. The organization which has about 100 members, is working to make the community and local doctors more aware of the illness.

Velliquette said there is an even larger fibromyalgia support group in the county.
Fibromyalgia causes pain in the body's muscle tissue.

When people complain of such pain and doctors can't find another cause, the call it "fibromyalgia" Velliquette said.

This article was submitted to the Law Page by :
Donna Herrell
Lyme Disease Information Resource

The Lyme Disease Network of NJ, Inc.
43 Winton Road
East Brunswick, NJ 08816