Baker Donelson Legal Secretary Wins Disability Benefits Suit

A longtime legal secretary for Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz PC won her lawsuit seeking disability benefits from Unum Life Insurance Co. for injuries she sustained in a 2014 car accident, according to a Mississippi federal court opinion.

Unum mishandled Susan Greer’s claim for benefits by analyzing whether she was capable of sedentary work, and not whether she could fulfill her specific duties as a legal secretary, Judge Carlton W. Reeves of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi held Thursday. Greer’s position required “more than just physical demands,” he said. It also required “organizational, communication, social, and written skills,” he said.

“The Plan language here unambiguously requires Unum to evaluate whether Greer could perform the duties of a legal secretary, not merely any job requiring comparable physical exertion,” Reeves said. “The Record, Unum’s arguments, as well as Unum’s reliance on these cases demonstrate that Unum did indeed evaluate Greer’s claim using the wrong standard.”

Greer had worked for Baker Donelson for nearly 30 years when she was hit head-on by an 18-wheeler logging truck on her way to work in May 2014. She sustained multiple broken bones, a hernia, multiple hematomas, and a head injury in the collision. Unum paid her disability benefits until October 2016, when it determined she was capable of returning to work.

Reeves awarded Greer summary judgment in her Employee Retirement Income Security Act lawsuit, saying that Unum used the wrong standard to evaluate her case and failed to sufficiently engage with the opinions of her treating physicians, who remained “adamant” that she couldn’t return to work given her injuries.

Reeves also said he’d award Greer attorneys’ fees, and he gave her three weeks to file a fee motion.

Morgan & Morgan PA represents Greer. Wells, Marble, & Hurst PLLC represents Unum.

The case is Greer v. Unum Life Ins. Co. of Am., 2021 BL 373895, S.D. Miss., No. 3:17-cv-00615, 9/30/21.