In a precedential and controversial opinion released on Thursday, the 1st Circuit found that the risk of relapsing back into an addiction counts as a disability. Under this decision, an employee at risk of relapsing is entitled to long-term disability benefits from insurance companies.

In the case, anesthesiologist Julie Colby became addicted to a prescription opioid that was used in her practice, and spent three months at a treatment center. After her discharge, Union Security Insurance Co. cut off her $4,000 a month long-term disability employee benefit payments. Colby’s doctors and therapist worried that if she returned to work, where the drug was readily available, she would have a high risk of relapse.

Six months after leaving the treatment center, Colby was arrested for drunk driving. Because of this, the court wrote that “the plaintiff’s risk of relapse was not merely theoretical.”

“In our view,” the court went on to say, “a risk of relapse into substance dependence—like a risk of relapse into cardiac distress or a risk of relapse into orthopedic complications—can swell to so significant a level as to constitute a current disability.”

The 1st Circuit’s decision creates a split with the 4th Circuit, which ruled in 2008 that denying benefits to an anesthetist addicted to the same drug as Colby was “reasonable.”

Read more at the Wall Street Journal.


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