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County needs more time in lawsuit

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Courts > Former LAPD chief claims benefits were stopped

By Tris DeRoma

In a lawsuit over whether Los Alamos County needs to honor a former employee’s long term benefit claim, the county has asked for more time to produce documents and evidence going all the way back to 2005.
In February, former Los Alamos Police Chief Wayne Torpy, 57, opened a lawsuit against the county for allegedly discontinuing his long-term disability benefits.
In a response to his lawsuit, the county said it needs more time to gather documents for its defense, saying that much of the dispute stems from alleged misunderstandings Torpy had concerning his benefits as a Los Alamos County employee when he was hired to be the Los Alamos’ police chief in 2005.
“This case involves events that occurred around March 2005,” a statement from the county read. “Much of the information relevant to LAC’s (Los Alamos County’s) defenses is likely contained in 10-year-old documents that aren’t readily available…Similarly, key witnesses may be difficult to locates, as they may be employees of the insurer or a consulting firm retained by LAC in 2005, or they may be longer employed by the county.”
In an effort to identify and get a hold of some of those documents, Torpy is due to give a deposition sometime next week.
Torpy’s suit alleges that the county broke its agreement with him when it denied Torpy its long-term disability benefit sometime last year.
In 2003, Torpy retired from the Melbourne, Florida, Police Department at deputy chief of the department. Torpy was hired by Los Alamos County in 2005 to be the county’s police chief. He was the police chief for eight years.
In 2013, Torpy retired due to physical and mental disabilities stemming from a heart attack and a stroke he suffered in 2012.
According to his lawsuit, Torpy started to receive money on a monthly basis from Assurant, an insurance company handling Torpy’s long-term disability claim for the county. At the same time, Torpy was also receiving retirement benefits from New Mexico Public Employee Retirement Association as well as the Melbourne Police Department, benefits he’s entitled to, as well.
Assurant paid 60 percent of Torpy’s “monthly earnings” at the time of his retirement in order to make up for the income he lost as a result of his disability. The benefit was supposed to last for the term of Torpy’s disability, which is permanent.
However, that benefit abruptly stopped in October 2014 when Assurant stopped paying, citing a clause in its policy that says it offsets payments based on the retirement benefits retirees receive from government plans.
In a letter to Torpy dated Oct. 17, 2014, Assurant executive Rhonda Christianson told Torpy that they were “reducing” his benefit due to the fact that they considered retirement benefits from the Melbourne Police Department (as well as PERA) benefits from “government plans.”
Assurant’s new calculations essentially reduced Torpy’s monthly LTD benefit to $100 a month. On top of that, Assurant put in a claim against Torpy for $57,000, the amount Assurant said it paid out to Torpy since his retirement in 2013.
In his lawsuit against the county, Torpy’s attorney states that the former police chief is not responsible for the actions of the county’s insurance company, that a promise is a promise.
“LAC seeks to wiggle out of its promise to pay long-term disability benefits,” Torpy’s attorney, Daniel O’Friel said in the lawsuit. “This Court may not rewrite the agreement between Mr. Torpy and the LAC to benefit the County. Clearly, LAC hired Assurant to fulfill its promise. ...LAC promised Mr. Torpy the benefit.”
Though the county doesn’t dispute that it agreed to provide with a long-term disability benefit, payment of the benefit is something else entirely, said one of the county’s attorneys, Barry Berenberg, in response to Torpy’s lawsuit.
“Mr. Baker (Max Baker, the county administrator in 2005) describes it as a promise to provide the described coverage, not as a promise to actually make payments for lost income,” Berenberg said in the lawsuit. “...Thus, if LAC made any promise, it was a promise to enroll Mr. Torpy in its long-term disability insurance policy. It was not a promise to make income payments following a disability. LAC cannot be liable for failing to make a payment it never promised to make.”
A date for a trial has not been set yet.