ERISA-Fourth Circuit Affirms District Court’s Ruling On The Amount Of Life Insurance Benefits

In Gordon v. Cigna Corporation, No. 17-1188 (4th Cir. 2018), Steven Gordon worked for Oil Price Information Services, Inc. and paid premiums on life insurance policies, under a plan sponsored by the employer, that totaled $300,000 in coverage.  But when Steven Gordon died in January 2014, his insurer, The Life Insurance Company of North America (“LINA”), paid Steven’s wife and beneficiary, Kimberly Gordon, only $150,000. The reason, LINA claimed, was because Steven Gordon had only been approved for $150,000 in coverage—not for the full $300,000 in coverage he had been paying for. When Kimberly Gordon sued for the difference between the two amounts, the district court granted summary judgment in favor of the insurance company.

The district court found that the errors leading to Steven Gordon’s reduced coverage resulted from mistakes by his employer, which administered the life insurance plan, not the insurance company. Thus, the insurance company did not breach any fiduciary duty it may have had under ERISA, nor did it knowingly participate in a breach of trust by another fiduciary. The district court also found that discovery would not lead to any information that would change its conclusion, so the court granted summary judgment before either party conducted discovery. Kimberly Gordon, on behalf of Steven Gordon’s estate, now appeals the district court’s decision. Upon reviewing the case, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s ruling.

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