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Employee with Parkinson's fails to stop working before termination; disability benefits denied

Roger Heikkinen became concerned in January, 2003, that his employer would terminate him.  He was reprimanded that month for missing a deadline and reluctantly informed his employers that he suffered from Parkinson's disease.  He immediately sought advice from a law  firm, and the attorneys suggested that he apply for disability immediately.  Heikkinen did not want to give up his full salary (or his job) any earlier than necessary, however, so he continued to work while the attorneys negotiated a termination agreement with his employer.

  When he subsequently filed for disability benefits under the employer's ERISA disability plan, he was ultimately denied benefits because he was not "disabled" at the time of his termination.  (Under the policy language, he could not be working full time and collecting a full-time salary and still be disabled, and the policy stated that his coverage ended on the date of termination.)

Heikkinen then sued the attorneys, arguing that they breached the standard of care in the advice they provided him.  The Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal of Heikkinen's case against his lawyers, pointing out that the attorneys had recommended that he file for disability in February, prior to the termination, and that when he worked full-time up until the termination date, he left the attorneys with inadequate bargaining power to achieve a disability-related termination.  The case is reported as Roger Carl Heikkinen v. Michael C. Gibbons, et al.

Thompson O’Neil, P.C.
309 East Front Street
Traverse City, Michigan 49684
Toll Free: 1-800-678-1307
Fax: 231-929-7262