The U.S. Supreme Court announced on April 15, 2013 that it will take up the question of when the statute of limitations period may begin to run for filing a legal action for long-term disability benefits under an ERISA plan. Heimeshoff v. Hartford Life & Accident Insurance Co., U.S., No. 12-729, cert. granted 4/15/13.
Heimeshoff had been a Wal-Mart employee for nearly twenty years. In 2005, she filed a claim for long term disability benefits as a result of various ailments caused by fibromyalgia. Hartford’s plan provided that its three-year limitations period ran from the time that proof of loss was due under the plan. Here, even accepting Heimeshoff’s arguments, the latest she could have filed a proof of loss was in September 2007, and she did not commence her lawsuit until November 2010.
The Second Circuit concluded that Connecticut law permits parties to an insurance contract to shorten the state-prescribed statute of limitations, and also permits the statute of limitations under an ERISA plan to begin before a claimant can bring a legal action. Accordingly, it held that the district court had properly dismissed Heimeshoff’s claim as untimely since she had filed her lawsuit several months after the three year period had expired.
The Supreme Court agreed to address the following question: “When should a statute of limitations accrue for judicial review of an ERISA disability adverse benefit determination?” According to the petition, the Circuits have not uniformly answered this question. As we have previously observed (April 2012 ERISA Litigation Newsletter), the reasoning of the Second Circuit appears to be more consistent with the enforcement of a contractual statute of limitations period since, absent the ability to establish an early accrual date of the claim, any effort to shorten the limitations period would yield little benefit.