Former Spirit Airlines Pilot Battles Insurance Giant Over Long-COVID-19 Claims

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PENNSYLVANIA — Former Spirit Airlines pilot Kathleen E. Crone has initiated a lawsuit against her insurance provider, Unum Life Insurance Co. of America. The 33-year-old from Lansdale, Pennsylvania, is accusing the insurer of unjustly denying her long-term disability benefits despite the debilitating effects of her prolonged COVID-19 symptoms.

Crone’s ordeal began after contracting COVID-19, post which she developed what is known as “long COVID.” This condition manifests in persistent symptoms, long after the initial virus has been defeated, severely impairing her ability to perform her duties as a pilot. Despite these hardships, Unum allegedly denied her claim, sparking a conflict now awaiting resolution in a Pennsylvania federal court.

The complaint, laden with Crone’s struggles, highlights her reduced mobility, frequent aphasia, crippling fatigue, severe headaches, vision impairments, and asthma attacks. Such incapacitating symptoms led to the expiration of her pilot certification required by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in December 2022, yet Unum reportedly remained unmoved.

Her suit, invoking the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), alleges that Unum breached its fiduciary duty by denying benefits rightfully hers, given the indisputable impact of long COVID on her regular professional functions.

Notably, Crone isn’t just fighting a denial but also challenging the alleged superficial evaluation standards adopted by Unum. She contends that the medical professionals enlisted by Unum lack a nuanced understanding of aviation medicine or the specific effects of long-haul COVID-19 on pilots. This knowledge gap, she argues, resulted in a skewed assessment, neglecting the reality that her medical condition unequivocally disqualifies her from FAA certification and, by extension, her duties as a pilot.

Crone has sought relief, including monthly benefits approximating $5,300, alongside attorney fees and related costs, the denial of which has precipitated this confrontation in court. The ex-pilot’s situation illuminates the broader neglect faced by individuals grappling with new, less understood medical conditions like long COVID.

Crone applied for her benefits in July 2022, following her COVID-19 diagnosis in April. The following months were marred by rejection and appeals. The defining blow was a letter in April 2023 from Unum, stating that the additional evidence she provided, including a doctor’s confirmation of her ineligibility for FAA certification, did not alter their stance.

The lawsuit further alleges that Unum, in dismissing her claims, ignored critical vocational realities. Specifically, they purportedly overlooked that a first officer’s role is tightly bound to FAA’s stringent medical regulations. This omission, if proven, signals a concerning disconnect within Unum’s evaluative procedures, raising questions about their decision-making process concerning long-haul COVID-19 cases.

The lawsuit is titled “Crone vs. Unum Life Insurance Co. of America,” and is being heard in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

Reporting by Samuel Lopez

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