South Carolina ERISA Litigation Lawyer
ERISA matters are complex and bring unique challenges. If you have an ERISA claim, you need legal counsel that is knowledgeable and well-versed in the law. An experienced ERISA litigation lawyer in South Carolina can help you assess your rights and remedies.
What Is ERISA?
Congress passed the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) in 1974. It has since been amended several times to standardize employer-sponsored insurance plans such as retirement and health benefits to private-sector employees. It sets the minimum standards for these private-sector insurance and benefit plans to provide employees with certain protections, rights, and remedies under these plans.
ERISA Violations and Litigation
ERISA requires employers to notify plan participants about certain information regarding their rights under the plan. Plans must comply with ERISA’s minimum standards for recordkeeping, fiduciary compliance, annual filing, and reporting requirements, among other things.
Importantly, under ERISA, there is a fiduciary duty of those who administer, manage, and control plan assets. As with any fiduciary relationship, the plan fiduciaries must act in the best interest of plan participants and beneficiaries. Failure to do so can result in exposure to ERISA litigation, department of labor violations, and IRS penalties.
Three common ERISA violations include:
- Breach of fiduciary duty to employees covered under the plan;
- Improper denial of benefits to current and former employees; and
- Interference with employees’ rights, such as failing to provide pertinent information and documents.
Employees can bring civil actions for ERISA violations. But these actions are brought differently from most other disputes because ERISA has an exclusive set of remedies. Any claim relating to ERISA plans essentially preempts state law and will most likely be pursued in a federal court.
What Is ERISA Litigation? How Does it Differ from Traditional Litigation?
Because ERISA is designed with limited remedies, claims under the act differ from traditional civil breach of contract, negligence, bad faith, or fraud claims under state law. One key difference is there are no jury trials under ERISA. An ERISA lawsuit is typically adjudicated through motion practice by both parties. The court will review the administrative record and make a ruling. The administrative record generally consists of documents, information, and correspondence submitted and considered by claims. For instance, if the litigation is about the denial of benefits, the court will use the administrative record to determine whether the fiduciary’s decision to deny benefits was proper. The process is restrictive and generally bars any discovery outside of the administrative record from being admissible.
Damages in ERISA Litigation
Generally, a plaintiff challenging a denial will be limited to recovering only the benefit amount due under the plan. You cannot recover non-economic damages such as compensation for pain and suffering and emotional anguish. But at the court’s discretion, a successful plaintiff may be entitled to recover reasonable attorney fees and costs.
Following the guidelines and complying with the necessary filing requirements can be easier said than done. That is why speaking with an experienced ERISA litigation attorney is imperative before proceeding with your claims.
Recent Noteworthy ERISA Litigation
In 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court addressed an ERISA fiduciary duty dispute in Hughes v. Northwestern University. Petitioners alleged that plan fiduciaries breached their duty under ERISA by failing to monitor and control fees paid for record-keeping, offering more affordable investments, and offering too many investment options, causing “plan confusion.”
Initially, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit dismissed the petitioner’s complaint, reasoning that because plan participants ultimately had a choice over their investments, they could not complain about a few imprudent choices.
The Supreme Court found the Seventh Circuit erred in its finding and that the petitioners’ allegations rose to a plausible claim. It vacated the Seventh Circuit’s prior dismissal and remanded the case to the district court.
In its rationale, the Court reiterated the long-held standard that it is insufficient for a plan fiduciary to offer numerous investment options, of which some are prudent and some are not.
In other words, having the petitioners’ preferred type of investments available does not excuse the plan’s allegedly imprudent decisions. The plan fiduciary must prudently select and monitor every investment option.
Significantly, the Court did not explicitly address or clarify—as many had hoped—the requirements for a petitioner in an ERISA fiduciary duty case to survive a motion to dismiss.
South Carolina ERISA Litigation Lawyer
ERISA litigation can be complicated, intricate, and highly specialized. If you believe you have an ERISA claim for improperly denied benefits, breach of fiduciary duty, or interference with your rights, you would be wise to contact experienced ERISA legal counsel. At the Peace Law Firm, we have dedicated our practice to ERISA litigation and employee rights. Don’t try to take on a claim by yourself. Let us use our skills and resources to handle it for you. Contact us today to schedule a convenient time for a consultation.