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Attorney’s Fees Awarded Against Sun Life

Prather, the decedent, injured his Achilles tendon and died from cardiopulmonary arrest due to a blood clot after surgery on his tendon. Prather had an accidental death and dismemberment policy through Sun Life that limited coverage to injuries caused solely from an accident. The District Court granted Sun Life summary judgment for its denial of benefits since complications from the surgery contributed to Prather’s death. The Seventh Circuit entered judgment in favor of the plaintiff due to Sun Life’s failure to offer any evidence that the surgery was the cause of death, rather than the accident. Prather’s widow then moved for attorney’s fees for filing suit under ERISA.

§1132(g)(1) allows reasonable attorneys fees and costs as long as the party “achieved some success on the merits.” The court explained that not only did Prather’s widow have complete success on the merits of her case but that she fulfilled four out of the five factors courts examine in determining fees: (1) the degree of the offending parties culpability; (2) the degree of the ability of the offending parties to satisfy and award of attorney’s fees; (3) whether or not an award of attorneys’ fees against the offending parties would deter other persons acting under similar circumstances; (5) the relative merits of the parties’ positions. The court awarded a total of $30,380.