A Federal Judge in Pennsylvania was recently asked to determine the nature and scope of discovery in an ERISA disability insurance matter, where the claimant was pursuing the deposition of Aetna’s Senior Appeal Specialist, the person who decided his claim on appeal.
Aetna sought to limit the scope of discovery and had pursued a motion to quash the deposition, in effect, seeking to have the Court stop the claimant in its pursuit of discovery in the ERISA disability litigation. Aetna was the insurance company who was financially responsible for the payment of any benefits, and who had terminated the claim. In seeking to limit the scope of discovery, Aetna had argued that even thought it had an undeniable conflict of interest, as the entity deciding the claim and the one financially responsible for the payment of any owed benefits, discovery was not appropriate.
The claimant had pursued discovery, and specifically the deposition from Aetna as to several important topics. These included inquiries relating to the medical and vocational consideration of the claim, and various requirements imposed by Aetna upon the claimant.
The Court, in reaching its determination, recognized that permitting discovery was not in conflict with the Supreme Court’s decision in Met Life v. Glenn, and that conflict was an area of inquiry that is not foreclosed to discovery in ERISA actions. The Court noted that evidence of the conflict of interest and how significantly to weigh that factor in the Court’s determination was not necessarily apparent on the face of the administrative record.
Despite noting that evidence regarding potential procedural irregularities might be outside of the administrative record, such information could be relevant to the Court’s consideration of the case, in determining what weight, if any, to be attributed to the conflict of interest. Thus, the Court stated that “discovery rules should be construed liberally.”
The Court thus denied Aetna’s application for a protective order and permitted the deposition to proceed.
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