Angela’s Story:

A Teacher’s Journey Through Illness to Empowerment

I met with the lawyers at MK Disability Lawyers LLP a few years ago. I never thought I was the type of person to start a lawsuit but after everything that happened, I had no choice. Looking back, I know it was the right thing to do and I cannot imagine having a more compassionate and dedicated team of lawyers on my side.

Here’s my story…

My name is Angela. Before my world was turned upside down, I was an elementary school teacher in my mid-forties. I was married with three children and elderly parents of my own. I had a lot on my plate, but I was always able to manage my responsibilities, taking pride in being a devoted wife, mother, daughter and teacher.

For years I juggled my career and family and then, within a few short weeks, my life began to unravel. I suffered the loss of my mother, my youngest son was diagnosed with Autism and I had a run-in with the new Principal at work. My marriage was also suffering. Needless to say, I was extremely stressed and overwhelmed. I realize now that I was barely keeping my head above water and it is no wonder that my health began to suffer. I was totally unprepared for what would happen next.

“I realize now that I was barely keeping my head above water and

it is no wonder that my health began to suffer.”

Around that time, I began experiencing unusual symptoms. I was exhausted beyond anything I had previously experienced. There were times when I struggled to stand up. No matter how much time I spent resting, I could never recuperate my energy. Cognitively, I could barely get through a one-page article and if I did, I could not recall what I had read. Sometimes I would leave home and not remember where I was going or I would get lost while driving in my own neighbourhood. Headaches and diffuse body pain became more frequent and more severe and over-the-counter medication no longer provided any relief. Some days, I was in constant pain.

The sharp and steady decline of my physical and cognitive functioning caused me serious anxiety and soon, depression set in. I did not want to get out of bed or get dressed. I found myself withdrawing from my friends and family.I would often break down in tears or have a panic attack that would leave me even more exhausted. I had less patience with my family. I was a different person. I was no longer the strong, high-functioning woman that I had once been.

“I was no longer the strong, high-functioning woman that I had once been.”

It became clear to me and to my doctors that I could no longer function at home, let alone in my role as an elementary school teacher. In consultation with my doctors, it was determined that I should stop working. I would take my remaining sick days and apply for long-term disability benefits under my employer’s disability insurance plan, the Ontario Teachers Insurance Plan.

Much to my relief, my initial claim for long-term disability benefits was approved. Based on the information my doctors and I provided, the insurance company (which was OTIP/Manulife, in my case) accepted that I was not able to do my job as an elementary school teacher. Knowing that benefits would be paid, I was able to focus on my health. I saw my family doctor regularly and I attended various specialist appointments. I underwent investigative tests and I pursued multiple therapies. I was diligent about following my doctors’ recommendations. I was hopeful that my doctors would discover what was causing my symptoms and that treatment would allow me to recover and return to teaching. My only hope was to feel well again; to feel like my old self.

“My only hope was to feel well again; to feel like my old self.”

Unfortunately, as the months passed, my condition continued to deteriorate. I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia, Major Depressive Disorder, Anxiety and Panic Disorder. I was also being investigated for Lyme Disease and Multiple Sclerosis, which caused me even greater anxiety. To make matters worse, despite continuing to submit supportive medical records and reports to my insurance company, it made the decision to terminate my long-term disability benefits. The termination came as a shock to me and to my doctors. No one could understand how the insurance company reached its decision, when it was obvious that I was in no condition to return to teaching or any other job.

The termination letter stated that there was “ insufficient medical information to support a severe disabling condition”. It went on to say that there were “no objective findings to support an impairment that would prevent me from working” and that there were “no contraindications to returning to work”. The letter also claimed that “activity is recommended for my disabling conditions” and that “returning to work would be beneficial” to me. I was distraught.

Thinking I had no other choice, my doctors and I worked diligently to appeal the insurance company’s decision. We submitted detailed reports from all of my treating doctors and specialists, along with their medical records. It seemed that nothing I could submit would change the decision. Despite all of the new detailed information we provided for the appeal, the insurance company maintained its decision to terminate my long-term disability benefits.

“It seemed that nothing I could submit would change the decision.”

The aggravation of dealing with the insurance company had caused me added stress and pain. Financially, I had been without an income for several months while I submitted additional information, waiting and hoping that the insurance company would eventually change its mind and reinstate my benefits. My husband and I were forced to cash in part of our retirement savings and rely on credit to meet our living expenses. With few other options, we reluctantly accepted a loan from my in-laws. We had relied on my long-term disability benefits and without that income, we were struggling. We were not prepared for what was happening.

I knew I had to do something. It was clear to everyone except the insurance company, that I was not medically able to return to my teaching job or any other job. Since returning to work was not an option, I was not sure whether I should quit my job. I was anxious that I would be fired if I did not return to work. I wondered if we would be forced to sell our family home. I did not know how I could convince the insurance company that I was disabled and entitled to long-term disability benefits. I knew I needed help.

That was when I reached out to MK Disability Lawyers LLP. They were recommended to me by a member of my Fibromyalgia Support Group. She described them as a team of very experienced women lawyers who were tough yet compassionate. They had successfully helped her navigate a challenging long-term disability lawsuit against her insurance company and she was pleased with their approach and the outcome.

When I researched MK Disability Lawyers LLP, I liked that they were women and that their law firm focused exclusively on long-term disability litigation. I knew I would feel more comfortable sharing personal details about my life and my health with other women. I also liked that they had represented many clients with medical conditions similar to my own and knew how to argue cases like mine. When I discovered that they also had decades of experience representing teachers and understood the details of my particular insurance plan, I knew I had found the right lawyers for me.

“MK Disability Lawyers inspired me to take a stand against the insurance company.

They empowered me to fight for what I was entitled to.”

MK Disability Lawyers LLP were always responsive, attentive and supportive. They took over my dispute with the insurance company, allowing me to focus my energy on what matters most, my health and recovery. They were tenacious advocates in dealing with the insurance company and in the end, much to my relief and satisfaction and due to their hardwork and dedication, MK Disability Lawyers LLP was able to successfully resolve my long-term disability lawsuit. I felt grateful to have had the help that I so desperately needed.

Even though I am still not well enough to work, I am no longer struggling financially and I hope that one day I will be able to recover enough to return to teaching or to some other type of work. Today, I look back proud of the courage I had to hire a lawyer and start a lawsuit. MK Disability Lawyers inspired me to take a stand against the insurance company. They empowered me to fight for what I was entitled to.

*Names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals. This article does not constitute legal or medical advice and is not a substitute for either. The reader should seek medical and/or legal advice from licensed practitioners.

A Teacher-Focused Disability Law Firm

Our law firm, MK Disability Lawyers LLP, is “teacher-focused”. Our three law partners have over 50 years combined experience litigating OTIP LTD claims. Between us, we have represented hundreds of educators. One of our partners, Courtney Mulqueen has the added advantage and insight of having worked as an in-house lawyer at Manulife, where she defended OTIP and Manulife LTD claims. We are a proudly women-led disability insurance law firm that understands the intricacies of OTIP policies as well as the unique issues and challenges Ontario Teachers encounter when they become disabled from work. Please see our recent blog article “Preparing Teachers for the Unknown.”

Free Consultations for Applying, Appealing and Litigating OTIP LTD Claims

We encourage you to contact us if your LTD claim has been denied or terminated by OTIP. We offer free consultations to help you decide whether to appeal the denial of your claim to OTIP or whether to proceed straight to litigation, suing OTIP and the insurance company.

If you choose to appeal, we are here to assist you with your appeal; either by consulting with you (and possibly your union representative) in the background or by taking over your appeal for you by dealing directly with OTIP on your behalf, allowing you to focus all of your energy on your recovery. When the best or only option is to proceed to litigation, we can normally get started on your lawsuit right away to ensure that a resolution is reached, as soon as possible. In either case, it is important that you not wait to dispute the OTIP decision, in order to protect your job, as well as your financial security. There are also important limitation periods under your collective agreement and under the Limitations Act for starting court actions.

As an added support, during this pandemic only, we are offering Ontario Teachers free consultations at the sick leave/LTD application stage. If you are considering sick leave and/or applying for LTD, we encourage you to contact us to schedule a time for us to discuss the details of your LTD claim. We will discuss the claims process with you, provide you with direction with respect to what to include in your initial claim and review of your claims forms before you submit them. Every claim is different and it is important that you use wording and provide medical evidence that will be most supportive and persuasive to OTIP and result in the approval of your claim.

We appreciate that there are a number of resources available to help you in your LTD claim application and appeal. Unlike many other resources provided by OTIP (such as your school board and your union), we have the unique perspective that comes only from seeing and litigating countless OTIP LTD claims that have been denied or terminated and we can use that insight and experience to help you avoid those outcomes.

If you have specific questions about LTD, please contact us to schedule a free individual consultation. We also invite you to visit our website, where you will find an extensive collection of blog articles about LTD, including our most recent article for teachers “Preparing for the Unknown” and our “Guide to LTD for Union Representatives”, as well as information related to applying LTD during COVID-19.