Workers suing over disability and other benefits under the federal law known as ERISA may win attorney fees and costs if they achieve “some degree of success on the merits,” a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Monday. In Hardt v. Reliance Standard Life Insurance Co. (pdf), the justices rejected a tougher standard imposed by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (pdf) on fee claimants under the Employee Retirement and Income Security Act. The lower appellate court had ruled that a claimant must be a “prevailing party” before seeking a fee award.

The justices’ ruling came in a case brought by Bridget Hardt, who sought long-term disability benefits as a result of job-related carpal tunnel syndrome. Hardt was awarded the benefits, but in March 2006, Reliance informed her that she was ineligible for continued long-term benefits. She sued the insurance company, claiming ERISA violations.

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