I am no M.D. but it seems pretty clear that an epileptic surgeon might pose a significant risk to patients.
So for Dr. Cheryl Hansen, an unfortunate board-certified obstetrician/gynecologist whose epilepsy twice caused her to lose consciousness from “syncope episodes” while in surgery, the question was not whether or not she should continue to perform surgery. The question was whether her inability to perform surgery qualifies her for ‘total disability’ or ‘partial disability’? She could still do office work and lots of other things OB/GYN’s apparently do. On the other hand, it is not at all clear that an OB/GYN that cannot perform surgery could ever find a job.
It turns out in Hansen v. Northwestern Mutual Life, however, that “the insurance policy does not condition entitlement to total-disability benefits on an insured’s employability.” The issue to be decided by the courts was whether Dr. Hansen could perform her “principal duties” or not.
The Hennepin County District Court (Robiner, J.) found that, “Under no reasonable interpretation of the policy and this record, can the broad constellation of duties that [Dr. Hansen] continues to be able to perform be considered non-principal duties of an OB/GYN.” And the Court of Appeals agreed this week.
If it is true that Dr. Hansen is unemployable as an OB/GYN because she cannot perform surgery, does it not seem harsh that she should be deemed “partially disabled” if she is, in fact, totally unemployable in her chosen field?