LACBA Update Back Issues - April 2015

LACBA AIDS Legal Services Project: Successful Outcome in Obtaining Disability, Life Insurance Reinstatement and Retroactive Benefits for Client

Written by Tracy A. Jessner Hale, attorney, Hooper, Lundy & Bookman, PC.

My client was a 56-year-old gay African American man who was single and had no children. He was estranged from his family and had a few close friends. He worked as a word processing supervisor for more than 10 years at a large law firm until he became ill with AIDS several years ago. (He had been HIV+ since 2001.) He reached out to LACBA AIDS Legal Services Project (ALSP) when his long-term disability carrier terminated his benefits with the erroneous belief that he was no longer disabled. The insurance carrier not only terminated his disability benefits but cancelled his life insurance policy as well.

When the ALSP director called and told me about this client, I knew I had to help. It took four months and more than 30 hours to successfully appeal the matter and get the insurance company to reverse its decision. The company reinstated his disability and life insurance, and paid the client nearly $7,500 in retroactive benefits. However, when I received news of the reinstatement, it was bittersweet because the client had been hospitalized for more than a week with pancreatic cancer and had a very short life expectancy.

When he was released from the hospital, he conveyed his gratitude:

The appeal that Tracy wrote for me perfectly, comprehensively, and compellingly presented my case... I never would have been able to do it without her. The services are so helpful and beneficial. And they satisfy such a desperate need in the HIV/AIDS community. Please continue the services. And, if possible, please expand the services. 

Postscript: The client once again turned to ALSP for legal help, this time to do his testamentary documents. This was particularly important to him since he had not been on speaking terms with his closest living relatives, namely his mother and siblings, for decades—a not-uncommon scenario for ALSP clients, who are often estranged from their families because of homo/HIV phobia. He had two very close friends and was relying on them for support as he was dying. 

After ALSP provided a referral to a long-time volunteer attorney to do his estate documents, he e-mailed again a few weeks before his death:

Having these documents is a huge relief to me, since they ensure that my final wishes will be carried out. Prior to your coming to my rescue, I was worried that I might not have enough time left to get the documents that I need. Thank you for relieving me of that worry. 

For more information about LACBA AIDS Legal Services Project, contact Project Director Laurie Aronoff at (213) 833-6776 or laronoff@lacba.org.