Pillsbury & Coleman delivers punishing hit to the NFL

Another key victory in NFL veteran's bad faith lawsuit for disability denial

The National Football League is a powerful opponent. Most plaintiffs get bulldozed when they line up against the NFL. So it was a huge win when a federal court ruled that the league had abused its discretion in denying the disability claim of our client, former NFL player Charles Dimry.

Pillsbury & Coleman LLC recently scored another highlight reel victory when the court awarded attorney fees to Mr. Dimry, even though his case is ongoing. The court order to pay all of his legal fees was a punishing blow to the NFL. It further penalized the league for its dirty tactics in systematically undercutting legitimate disability claims 

Moving the chains for all disability claimants

The legal victories in this case have been precedent-setting. We proved it is possible to take on the NFL and win. We exposed the league's shabby treatment of injured players. And we expanded the playbook for anyone fighting the uphill battle of a denied ERISA disability claim. Even professional athletes find they are overmatched under ERISA rules that unfairly favor employers and insurers.

Charles Dimry played cornerback in the National Football League for 12 years. He suffered two major neck injuries while playing for the San Diego Chargers. When the pain and nerve damage forced him to retire from playing football, he transitioned to a support role as a training director. But his neck injuries degenerated further, despite spinal fusion surgeries, to the point that he could no longer work at all.

Mr. Dimry became eligible for Line of Duty benefits under the NFL's Player Retirement Plan and Supplemental Disability Plan. Yet he was twice denied when he applied for total and permanent disability (T&P) benefits.

Court chastised NFL for abuse of discretion in denying claim

The NFL's disability plan falls under the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). When Charles Dimry filed an appeal, the NFL assigned an independent physician to gauge the extent of his disabilities. That doctor concluded that Mr. Dimry could work a desk job or other sedentary work and did not merit disability benefits. However, the NFL's physician had no vocational expertise and was not provided with a definition of T&P. He also ignored testimony of Mr. Dimry's own physicians who had treated him for years. In a separate proceeding, a Social Security administrative law judge determined that Mr. Dimry is eligible for disability benefits because there are no jobs Mr. Dimry could perform with his impairments.

Terry Coleman, founding partner of Pillsbury & Coleman, LLP, represented Charles Dimry in the ERISA appeal. Four years after the initial claim denial, the lawsuit was heard in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. In March 2018 the court ruled that the NFL had abused its discretion in turning down Mr. Dimry's T&P claim. Specifically, the court rebuked the NFL for relying exclusively on a "neutral" doctor whose exam was transparently favorable to the league. At trial, we presented evidence that the NFL has cultivated a network of doctors who predictably rule against players who claim job-related disabilities.

The federal court remanded his disability claim for further proceedings, with the assumption that Mr. Dimry is likely to prevail on the merits of his original claims. The court strongly suggested that the Social Security Administration's disability determination be considered when the NFL reviews Charles Dimry's long-term disability claim.

Score one for the underdogs!

In December 2018, the court granted a motion on behalf of our client for the NFL to pay Mr. Dimry's attorney fees in light of the abuse of discretion ruling. Mr. Dimry was awarded the full request of $279,000 in legal fees plus $2,600 in litigation costs. This order was the equivalent of the court flagging the NFL for unsportsmanlike conduct, as Mr. Dimry's underlying disability claim is still pending. In a future post, we will say more about that award of attorney fees and why it is a landmark ruling.

Next: Award for attorney fees broke new ground

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