5th Circuit, Disability Law, Insurance, Partner Issues

Former Biglaw Partner Caught Faking a Disability

Insurance fraud committed by someone who should know better is one thing. But on top of that, this case features allegations of assault, foreign retaliatory detentions, computer hacking, extortion, spurned lovers, and revenge.

This former Biglaw partner left the practice complaining of back injuries that forever closed the door to the profession. In 2002, the carrier got a request to provide long-term disability benefits. But the carrier never really trusted the partner — because who really trusts lawyers — and conducted video surveillance and multiple independent medical examinations.

Late last week, a federal appeals court sided with the insurance company, agreeing that the partner was more than likely faking it and writing up the whole scandalous tale….

Terri Truitt was a partner at Mayer Brown in its Houston office, specializing in international oil and gas litigation. Correction, she was a partner at THE BIGLAW firm of Mayer Brown, because The New Republic informed us that Mayer Brown is the only Biglaw firm out there. They also made it pretty clear that being a partner there was a horrible experience (even if most of the perils described in the article happened years after Truitt left active practice).

Truitt suffered lower back and leg pain that eventually drove her to leave practice and seek benefits on the grounds that these injuries barred her from the regular practice of law. Having worked with exceptional attorneys with chronic back problems and even in wheelchairs, I’m incredulous. But Truitt suggested that her practice required intense physical effort.

For example, “lifting and handling boxes in excess of 25 pounds.” I have one word for you: associates.

In fairness to Truitt, she claimed her particular practice required long, international flights to far-flung locales like Sweden, Turkmenistan, and Pottsylvania. That could present a problem if you don’t get one of those Virgin Atlantic flights with the beds, I suppose.

But her carrier, Unum, never really believed her:

This continuing review also produced evidence inconsistent with Truitt’s disability. For example, surveillance videos showed Truitt walking, driving, and bending down, and lifting and carrying boxes, bags, coolers, pumpkins, and a dog. After conducting an Independent Medical Examination (“IME”), orthopedic surgeon Michael Graham found that “it is clear that [Truitt] has little or no physical impairment.”

Unum cut her off once, but relented after a brief clash of experts. Then the case got really crazy:

Around the same time that Truitt’s benefits were reinstated, a man identifying himself as Andrew Mark Thomas called Unum. Thomas said: that he had been in a personal relationship with Truitt for “a number of years”; that Truitt had him “locked up” and deported to the United Kingdom; that, as a result, he wanted “to see the b**** locked up”; and that he had photos, travel itineraries, and other documents that showed that Truitt was not totally disabled. Thomas sent Unum a follow-up email asking to be paid six times “the current monthly payments made to” Truitt in exchange for providing “complete evidence that [she] is obtaining monthly (disability) payments under false preten[s]es.” He warned: “This is a one[-]time offer, and no further thought will be given if you decide to decline.”

Extortion? Foreign detention? It’s not clear the extent of the “personal relationship” Thomas alleges, either. Thomas sounds totally crazy seriously aggrieved. Too bad Thomas let Unum know just how much he hated Truitt because Unum realized they didn’t need to buy the cow when they could get the milk for free:

Unum responded that it “does not pay for fraud[-]related information,” but that Thomas was “free to call” if he was willing “to provide this information without compensation.”

Thomas proceeded to provide, without compensation, some emails purportedly sent by Truitt. Unum asked Thomas if there were “any additional emails/information available which might shed additional light regarding this case?” Responding that “this is personal to me,” Thomas provided Unum with additional emails. In total, Thomas provided more than 600 pages of emails, spanning March 2005 to July 2007.

The emails — summarized over the course of multiple pages of the opinion — show that Truitt was an extensive world traveler, despite her stated inability to sit still on an international flight for hours. Her defense: vacation travel is way less demanding than work travel, which is true, but not likely to sway the carrier paying you upwards of $1 million in benefits because you claim to be “bed-ridden for upwards of 15 hours a day.” Worse still, the emails demonstrated that Truitt was actively practicing law on the side while telling Unum she could never practice again.

But even worse for Truitt, the emails matched up suspiciously with her correspondence with the carrier:

• Truitt contacted Unum on August 20, 2005 to say: that her condition had gotten worse; that her mother was taking care of her; that she would not be able to attend an FCE scheduled for September 2, 2005; and that she would not be available until September 24, 2005. Yet Truitt’s travel records showed that she was traveling in Europe between August 7, 2005 and September 22, 2005.

• Truitt told Unum in an April 24, 2006 letter that, since a March 1, 2006 FCE, she had “been confined to bed rest for approximately 15 hours per day.” Yet video surveillance on April 6, 2006 showed Truitt “driving for most of the day and
removing several items from her vehicle.”

• Truitt told physician Levine during a June 9, 2006 IME that she had stayed in bed for 15 hours a day since the March 1, 2006 FCE. Yet “[d]uring this time period, some of the activities she was performing included international traveling, working, purchasing tickets to attend a Gala event, riding and keeping up two acres of property by herself.”

But Thomas wasn’t telling Unum everything:

Truitt sent Unum a three-page affidavit. Truitt recounted how she had been assaulted by Thomas. She then stated: that Thomas was “a computer and hacker expert”; that he “copied onto his laptop virtually all of the data from my personal computer”; and that his “laptop also has computer hacking programs and communications stating that Mr. Thomas was planning to ‘grass’ me up to UNUM and steal money from me.” Truitt characterized an email purportedly from Thomas—in which he threatened to tell Unum that he had “detailed knowledge & evidence of a long[-]term fraud being commi[t]ted by a[n] insured client of Unum”—as “threatening to send false information to UNUM.” She also asserted that “[n]one of the statements Mr. Thomas threatened to make to UNUM are true.”

Along with the affidavit, Truitt sent Unum documents confirming that Thomas pled guilty to assaulting Truitt by strangling her during a November 2007 camping trip. She also sent medical records, tax returns, and relevant case law.

So now Unum had some damning electronic evidence, but the source was allegedly a violent extortionist computer hacker.

Unum believed the emails and cut off Truitt’s benefits, prompting the former partner to file suit, alleging that Unum acted arbitrarily and capriciously in putting faith in anything Thomas sent them.

The Fifth Circuit disagreed with Truitt, finding that Unum’s faith in Thomas was merely part of an extensive investigation into the partner’s claimed disability.

And there you have it. If any of you other Mayer Brown partners were reading The New Republic and contemplating a severance package a la insurance fraud, you need to do a much better job committing to the role.

Want to read the entire sordid opinion, along with all the damaging email excerpts? It’s all on the next page…

(hidden for your protection)

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