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The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 is a federal law that sets minimum standards for the majority of voluntarily established private pension and health plans. ERISA requires private employers to provide plan information to participants, outlines fiduciary duties for those who manage plans, requires a grievance and appeal process, and provides a right to sue for benefits. One of the most common employee rights that are exercised under ERISA is the right to sue when a disability claim is denied. Recently, a former NFL player won his wrongful denial case for private disability benefits.

The NFL like other private employers offers a benefit and retirement package to its employees and therefore the Bert Bell/Pete Rozelle NFL Player Retirement Plan is subject to the requirements of ERISA. Former NFL player Andrew Stewart, who started with the Browns in 1989, recently challenged his denial of disability benefits stemming from the NFL retirement plan.

Stewart played all 16 games during his first season but before his second season began, he tore his Achilles tendon during training camp. Later, he signed with the Bengals and suffered a torn ACL in practice, and experienced more hard luck when he signed with the 49ers. Before playing in San Francisco, he suffered a hand injury in practice. Today, he needs a knee replacement and is unable to write because of his hand injury. Stewart attempted a career in law enforcement but was not able to pass the physical.

In 2008, Stewart filed a claim for disability benefits with the retirement plan and was denied. He later exercised his right to sue to enforce his right to benefits under the plan and won a rare victory. Recently, a federal judge ruled pension operators abused their discretion and ordered the NFL retirement plan to provide Stewart with permanent disability benefits. Stewart is one of only two NFL players to have been successful in challenging the retirement plan.

An experienced insurance attorney can help a worker enforce his or her benefits rights when a wrongful denial is suspected.

Source: Fox Sports, “Stewart Wins Suit, Earns NFL Pension,” A.J. Perez, June 20, 2012

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