ERISA 502(a) Statute of Limitations Overview

erisa 502 a statute of limitations

The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, or ERISA, is a federal labor law that provides basic benefits and rights to employees who receive employer-provided benefit plans.

To protect employees, ERISA imposes several requirements upon private employers and forces employers to act in their employees’ best interests.

Furthermore, ERISA section 502(a) allows employees to bring a civil action against their employer. However, many employees wonder whether ERISA section 502(a) has a statute of limitations that might prevent them from bringing a claim. 

The text of ERISA 502(a) does not contain a statute of limitations for benefit claims or breach of fiduciary claims. That said, ERISA section 502(a) statutes of limitations have been the subject of much litigation over the years.

Read on to learn more about the current state of the law on this topic. Notwithstanding the latest legal developments, it is a good idea to file a claim sooner rather than later if you believe your employer has infringed on your ERISA rights.

ERISA 502(a) Does Not Have a Statute of Limitations, Right?

While the statutory text of ERISA 502(a) does not contain a statute of limitations, that fact does not mean that employees can file lawsuits whenever they please.

On the contrary, courts have deferred to the relevant state’s most applicable limitations period. In situations where the plan provider’s benefit plan features a shorter limitation period than the state law, courts have deferred to those shorter periods. 

For example, the U.S. Supreme Court recently upheld an ERISA plan’s provision imposing a three-year limitation period for filing denial of benefit lawsuits.

In that case, Heimeshoff v. Hartford Life & Accident Insurance, Co., the Court stated that federal courts did not need to inquire whether a state’s statute of limitations applied if the plan itself had a limitations period that was “not unreasonable.”

Since that decision, the U.S. Department of Labor has clarified that any denial of ERISA benefits by a plan provider has to include a notification of the applicable time limits to file a lawsuit. 

How Can I Learn More About the Statute of Limitations Period for My Plan?

As of January 1, 2018, Department of Labor regulations require employers to notify their employees of the limitations period on filing an appeal. This means that if you have recently received a denial of benefits letter, it should mention how long you have to file an appeal. The typical range for appeal limitation periods is between one and five years.

You can still learn about the applicable limitations period even if you have not yet received a denial of benefits letter. Specifically, you can learn more about the ERISA-based statute of limitations for potential denials of benefit claims by consulting your employer directly or by reviewing your plan’s written information. 

If your employer did not inform you of the time limit to file a benefits denial claim when it issued you a denial of benefits letter, then it is probably violating federal regulations. However, you should still file your denial of benefits claim as soon as possible. 

Can an Attorney Help Me Bring a Timely ERISA Section 502(a) Lawsuit?

Absolutely. An attorney can help you understand whether the statute of limitations for your benefits claim is governed by the plan’s language or by state law. In addition, they can discuss the latest updates in Department of Labor regulations and federal case law. 

The truth is, an attorney can assist you in many ways throughout the ERISA appeal process. ERISA is a notoriously complex area of law. For example, determining whether ERISA applies to your employer is quite difficult. Religious organizations and government groups are exempt from ERISA.

In addition, there are a few ways that private employers can exempt their plans from ERISA. Furthermore, ERISA does not apply to every kind of health and welfare benefit plan. An attorney can help you understand whether ERISA applies to your benefits or retirement plan. 

Another issue in ERISA claims is understanding which remedies apply to the claim. An employee filing a denial of benefits claim, for example, can usually receive only the amount that they are rightfully entitled to under the plan. Compensatory and punitive damages do not apply.

However, other kinds of ERISA claims, like breach of fiduciary duty claims, allow for a wider selection of possible remedies. A skilled ERISA attorney will be able to assess the facts of your case and model your lawsuit accordingly so that you obtain the compensation you deserve. 

How Else Can an Attorney Help Me?

From a more practical perspective, hiring an attorney can help you hold your own in court.  The defendants in an ERISA claim are generally insurance companies and employers. These entities often have an “in-house” team of highly skilled and experienced attorneys to represent them.

Others will hire enormous and expensive law firms to assist in their defense. Without competent counsel by their side, an employee can be easily overmatched or bullied into accepting a lowball settlement agreement.

Finally, an attorney will be able to take care of all litigation-related tasks. This includes things like negotiating with the other party to obtain a fair settlement for your case. It may also include preparing and sending out discovery requests to opposing counsel and arguing persuasively in front of a federal judge. 

Why Should I Choose the Peace Law Firm?

By now, you probably realize how important it is to hire an attorney for your ERISA claim. However, not all attorneys are the same, so it is equally important to hire the right kind of attorney.

Specifically, you should hire an attorney who is experienced in ERISA litigation. You should also make sure that the attorney you hire has excellent client testimonials and a good reputation. 

Fortunately, you do not have to go far to find a firm that meets these requirements. The Peace Law Firm has many years of experience representing employees in ERISA cases.

In addition, we are passionate about helping you get the compensation you deserve. We treat our clients as more than just numbers. That’s just one of the reasons why we have excellent client testimonials

Finally, we handle all our cases on a contingency basis. This means that you do not have to pay us unless we win your case.  Even if you are still unsure about whether you need to hire an attorney, take a moment to contact us. All initial consultations are free, so there’s no reason not to give us a call and set up an appointment. Let us help you today!

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