Berkshire Life to pay $191,358 in latex allergy suit

latex allergy PITTSFIELD — A federal jury has ordered Berkshire Life to pay the claims of a Connecticut woman who was forced to leave her job as a dental hygienist because of a latex allergy.

A jury in U.S. District Court in Springfield ordered Pittsfield-based Berkshire Life and its parent company, Guardian Life Insurance Co. of American, to pay $191,358 to Carolyn Mirek, of South Windsor, Conn.

Mirek filed the suit after Berkshire Life denied her disability claim. According to Mirek's attorney, Joanne D'Alcomo of the Boston firm Jager Smith, Mirek had worked for more than 18 years as a dental hygienist but stopped on the advice of her allergist.

Mirek carried an "own occupation" disability policy, which is designed to pay monthly benefits to someone who is disabled and prevented from working in her field, even if she can find work in another occupation, D'Alcomo said.

But Berkshire denied Mirek's claim in November 2002, arguing she could continue to work as a hygienist. D'Alcomo said that denial was based on the advice of a doctor who is not board certified and does not believe latex allergies exist.

"I cannot understand why a company that presents to consumers that disability insurance is supposed to provide protection would so aggressively fight a claim on behalf of a person whose serious condition is backed up by her long-standing allergist," D'Alcomo said.

Berkshire Life declined to comment, saying it has a policy of not discussing litigation.

Mirek continued to pay her premiums while Berkshire fought the lawsuit, D'Alcomo said. Monday's award will cover past benefits and a reimbursement of her premiums. The mother of two has now found work selling dental supplies.

Mirek has filed a separate lawsuit, accusing Berkshire and Guardian of acting in bad faith when it denied Mirek's claim.

That suit is based largely on the discovery of internal Berkshire and Guardian positions on latex allergies. Even as the company "scoffed at (Mirek's) latex allergy-related claim ... (and) maintained that latex allergy can be easily managed" the company had developed a policy that acknowledged latex allergies as debilitating to medical professionals.

Berkshire and Guardian were "internally adamant about not selling any individual disability policies to anyone in the medical field who showed signs of latex allergy because of the danger that they would become unable to work," that suit states.

Mirek is seeking a jury trial in that suit.

source - Berkshire Eagle