Unforeseen Consequences of Professional Discipline: Denial of Disability Benefits

If you are in danger of losing your professional license to practice law, medicine, nursing, accounting or another occupation, it is reasonable to assume that you are concerned about the financial impact on your future.  If you are a young professional, you might have tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in education-related loans hanging over your head.  Established professionals will find it virtually impossible to maintain their standard of living without their occupational license.

In this context, many professionals wonder if their loss of a professional license constitutes a basis for pursuing a disability claim to bridge the income gap.  In many cases, inability to engage in your profession will not justify long-term disability benefits with a private insurance carrier.  This blog post compares several scenarios in terms of the impact of disciplinary proceedings that result in revocation of a professional license on the ability to pursue a long-term disability claim.  Generally speaking, long-term disability coverage from a private insurer does not cover legal disability stemming from revocation of a professional license.  However, this blog addresses broad trends, so the law in a specific jurisdiction can differ significantly.  This discussion also does not address unique nuances that can impact your situation, so this blog should not be considered nor is it intended as legal advice.

When Loss of a Professional License Causes a Physical or Mental Disability

If an individual devotes a significant portion of his or her life to becoming a physician, lawyer, nurse, or other professional, the sudden inability to engage in that occupation can result in severe emotional and psychological symptoms.  However, courts generally do not find that long-term disability benefits are appropriate when a professional suffers depression or other diagnosable mental illnesses or disorders as a consequence of the stress and anxiety of losing a professional license.

Medical Disabilities Unconnected to Professional Discipline

When an individual suffers both a medical disability and a legal disability resulting from loss of a professional license, the order of events often has a significant impact on whether a court will require a private insurer to pay long-term disability benefits.  If the medical condition, injury, or illness that causes disability precedes suspension of the right to the engage in a profession, courts have typically upheld the right of a claimant to disability benefits.  Courts that have taken this position generally have not been influenced by whether the alleged misconduct occurred prior to suffering the disabling medical or psychiatric condition.  There is an exception to this general timing rule.  This general approach only applies if the disabling condition is not related to the cause of the legal disability.

Practicing Successfully with Disabling Condition Prior to Revocation of Occupational License

Many people who suffer from serious mental health issues or addictions manage to function successfully and develop an accomplished career despite their disability for a reasonably lengthy period.  Generally, courts have split in this situation.  Some courts consider the ability of the professional to engage in his or her profession as evidence that the mental disorder did not cause the loss of the license to engage in the occupation.  Under this reasoning, courts rule that the mental health condition is not disabling since the individual engaged in the profession effectively for years.  Other courts have taken a contrary view and found that the mental illness or addiction was disabling because it eventually derailed the career of the professional.

The relationship between revocation of a professional license and the right to claim disability benefits is just one example of the sometimes unforeseen consequences of professional discipline.  We understand the potentially devastating impact of losing your right to engage in your chosen occupation and work diligently to help our clients minimize the impact of disciplinary proceedings.  If you are facing potential discipline, Kansas Professional Responsibility Defense Attorney Danielle Sanger represents professionals facing disciplinary proceedings in Missouri or Kansas, so call us today for a free consultation at 785-979-4353.