The Employee Retirement Income Security Act and Disability Lawsuit Time Limits in California

by Debbie Donner

The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) was passed into federal law in 1974 to protect individuals participating in pension and health plans within the private industry sector. The law establishes minimum standards for the majority of voluntarily created plans and the employers. ERISA covers health, retirement, life and disability insurance plans. If you are employed in the state of California and become disabled and are subsequently denied benefits, you need to be aware of disability lawsuit time limits.


One of the key functions of the ERISA is to ensure that those who manage employer-sponsored plans, along with other fiduciaries (trustees), meet particular standards of conduct. The law requires employers to provide full disclosures about the benefits eligible employees receive, to the employees and to the U.S. Department of Labor. Provisions within ERISA are intended to ensure that benefit plan funds are protected and efficiently managed and that qualifying participants receive their benefits. If you have suffered the wrongful termination or denial of your disability benefits, you may be able to file a disability lawsuit against the provider insurance company.

Administrative Appeal

In the majority of ERISA-related disability lawsuits, once you file your claim for benefits and it is denied, you must first appeal (petition) the denial of your claim to the disability plan administrator or the provider insurance company that denied your benefits. If that fails, then you can pursue a disability lawsuit in court. The appeal process is otherwise known as exhausting administrative remedies. Typically, you have 180 days to file an administrative appeal from the date your claim for benefits was initially denied.

Recovering Damages

If the administrative appeal is denied, and you manage to successfully sue the plan administrator or provider insurance company for loss or denial of valid benefits, the ERISA limits the damages you can receive. Generally, your lawsuit recovery will be limited to any valid benefits you have coming, any interest accumulated on past benefits and in some cases you may be able to recover all or a portion of your attorney's fees. Normally, attorney's fees can only be recovered if you win your case. If your claims case goes to court, each step has time limitations and deadlines that must be adhered to, or you may lose your right to proceed further.

Time Limits

Most states have a statute of limitations (time limit) on the length of time in which you have to file a disability lawsuit, once your benefits claim and administrative appeal have both been denied. Disability lawsuit time limits in California are generally four years from the date when your administrative appeal was denied. Your ERISA disability lawsuit can be filed in state or federal court, but often it ends up in federal court anyway, after being filed initially in a state court.

About the Author

Based in California, Debbie Donner is a freelance online writer who primarily writes articles related to personal finance. Donner received a Mensa scholarship in 2006 while attending California State University, Fresno. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in liberal arts and a multiple-subject teaching credential.

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