Law360 Names Zuckerman Spaeder a 2021 Benefits Practice Group of the Year

Law360 has again recognized Zuckerman Spaeder’s benefits work with a 2021 Practice Group of the Year award. In profiling the firm and its recent accomplishments, Law360 focused on two Zuckerman Spaeder legal fights that seek to end discriminatory policies used by health insurance companies and by the National Football League (NFL).

For years, Zuckerman Spaeder has operated a national legal practice that is successfully challenging powerful institutions to ensure patients and providers have fair access to mental health benefits. This work led to a landmark 2019 ruling against United Behavioral Health (UBH), the nation’s largest behavioral health claims administrator, which was followed by a 2020 remedy ruling that delivered the maximum available relief for plaintiffs and powerfully re-affirmed the magnitude of UBH’s malfeasance. As Law360 reported, UBH was ordered “to re-write its coverage guidelines and reprocess 67,000 insurance claims.”

That 2019 win, which former U.S. Representative Patrick Kennedy called the “Brown v. Board of Education for the mental health movement,” was a turning point in the mental health parity fight. Even still, it appears that UBH remains unwilling to honor all of its legal obligations. Zuckerman Spaeder has kept the pressure on and, in 2021, delivered another major behavioral health win, successfully challenging UnitedHealth’s denial of the most common Autism treatment, and brought new lawsuits to address other unfair denials.  

The firm’s award-winning insurance benefits practice is led by partners D. Brian Hufford, Caroline E. Reynolds, Andrew Goldfarb, and Jason S. Cowart. In its article, Law360 discussed the challenges of this work, quoting Mr. Hufford as saying, “We're up against the largest insurance companies in the country who are willing to put millions of dollars into defending their practices, and so it's not an easy practice, but the firm is committed to doing it.”

At the same time it was fighting behavioral health discrimination by UBH, the firm brought a headline-making class action lawsuit to end a discriminatory policy used by the NFL. The legal action brought national attention to the league’s use of “race norming” – applying different sets of data based on race – when processing claims as part of the 2015 concussion settlement. This deliberate manipulation of “cognitive function” test scores resulted in former players with identical scores getting different treatment solely based on race – ultimately, causing Black retirees to receive fewer and lower benefits than their White teammates. 

Law360 highlighted the impact of Zuckerman’s legal effort, explaining that in June 2021, the NFL announced that it was “seeking to end race-based norms in its cognitive tests and planning to set up a new assessment program.” In October 2021, an agreement was reached that eliminates race norming in concussion benefit determinations and will allow Black retirees previously evaluated in the settlement process to have their tests re-scored.

Partner Cy Smith, who led this legal effort along with partner Aitan Goelman, explained to Law360 the broader implications of the case, “This idea of race-norming and having different scales for White patients and Black patients, whether it's for kidney function or for neuropsychological testing, is something that permeates medicine and behavioral health.”

This recognition marks the third time in the last four years that the firm has received a Benefits Practice Group of the Year award from Law360.