Vision-related disabilities are in the top ten disabilities among adults in the United States. About one million adults over 40 have blindness, while 4.2 million have some degree of uncorrectable vision impairment. Three percent of children under 18 are blind or have an uncorrectable visual impairment.
Whether someone significantly loses their vision as a child or adult, this type of impairment can affect their future ability to work. Many people who are blind in one or both eyes seek disability benefits to help support themselves and their families due to their work limitations.
Unfortunately, obtaining long-term disability benefits for blindness in one eye can be surprisingly challenging. While you might know that your vision challenges prevent you from earning a living, disability insurance companies regularly disagree. To make matters worse, appealing a claim denial is tricky when you have disability coverage as part of an employee benefits plan, as these plans fall under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).
If you want to discuss your eligibility for benefits, want help with your initial claim, or need assistance appealing a claim denial, you should contact a disability attorney immediately. The right lawyer will fight for the insurance benefits you deserve and remove stress from your shoulders when you cannot work due to blindness in one eye.
Causes of Blindness in One Eye
It is a medical emergency when you suddenly lose total or near-total vision in one eye. Usually, a prompt diagnosis and immediate treatment are necessary to avoid permanent blindness in the eye.
Many people do not realize the severity of sudden vision loss, assuming it will come back eventually. This often leads to lasting blindness in one eye that is untreatable by medical professionals. Even those who get emergency treatment might not get restored vision in their eye due to an underlying medical condition.
Blindness can result from trauma and damage to the optic nerve, any part of the eye, or any part of the brain related to your vision.
Some eye injuries heal with emergency medical treatment, while others result in permanent damage and permanent loss of vision in the injured eye.
- Chemical burns or toxic exposure. When toxic chemicals splash or otherwise spread into the eye, they can cause severe irritations or burns that cause blindness. Alkalis and acids have a particularly high risk of causing permanent eye damage.
- Trauma to the eye. The cornea or iris can suffer damage due to foreign objects going into the eye or blunt trauma, such as from getting punched or hit with a baseball in the eye. The resulting abrasions or lacerations can cause permanent eye injuries. This can also result in bleeding on the front of the eye, which can cause serious vision issues.
- Traumatic brain injury (TBI). Your brain controls your vision abilities, and damage to specific parts of the brain can prevent accurate communication and control from the brain to the eye. You might not associate head trauma with vision loss, but blindness in one or both eyes is a common complication of a TBI, which can happen in car accidents, falls, and many other settings.
Medical Causes of a Blind Eye
A blind eye often happens due to reduced blood flow to the eye. This reduction might result from blockages in the carotid artery or a blood clot forming in the retinal artery. In either case, individuals might require extensive medical treatment to address the underlying issue causing the reduced blood flow. The blindness can often become permanent before the problem gets resolved.
Other medical conditions that might result in one blind eye include:
- Sickle cell anemia
- Diabetes and diabetic retinopathy
- Blood vessel disease
- Multiple myeloma
- Brain tumors
Not only are these all debilitating conditions, but they can also result in the disabling loss of vision for sufferers. People with blindness in one eye often have many other medical struggles to deal with, some of which might cause different types of disabilities.
While anyone can develop serious medical issues and related blindness, some risk factors for this condition include:
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Heart disease
- High cholesterol
- Multiple sclerosis
- Substance abuse, including alcohol, smoking, and cocaine
With the ongoing rise in diabetes and heart disease in the United States, researchers expect the number of people who experience blindness in one or both eyes to steadily increase over the next 30 years.
Whether you were at high risk for blindness, completely unexpectedly lost vision in one eye due to an injury, or any other cause, the effects are still the same. If you can no longer see out of one eye, it can require devastating changes to your life, which might include stopping work and losing your income.
Never hesitate to discuss benefit options with a disability lawyer as soon as possible to ensure you get the financial support you need.
Effects of a Blind Eye on Your Work Abilities
Losing your vision in one eye can be jarring. Others might assure you that because you still have one good eye, you can continue life as normal. However, many victims of one blind eye find this is not the case, and their condition affects their ability to work.
Losing vision in one eye can cause:
- Reduced range of sight and peripheral vision
- Impaired depth perception
- Difficulty judging distances
- Trouble tracking objects accurately
While these effects do not prevent people from working in every profession, they can certainly disqualify you from many jobs and industries.
For example, you do not want to use power tools when you cannot track an object or judge depth. Operating heavy equipment has similar risks. Many physical jobs require clear focus and vision from both eyes, and people might have to leave their jobs upon a diagnosis of permanent blindness in one eye.
Driving can also be challenging for individuals with only one good eye. Many people who drive with a blind eye cause crashes and put themselves, others, and company property at risk.
Commercial drivers have specific eligibility requirements to obtain a commercial driver’s license (CDL) with reduced or no vision in one eye.
The newest requirements from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) for such drivers include :
- At least 20/40 vision in the good eye
- A horizontal field of vision of at least 70 degrees
- The stabilization of the vision loss (not an ongoing degenerative disability)
- Enough time has passed since the blindness set in to allow the driver to adapt to the changes in their vision
Often, even if someone feels like they can continue working, companies in certain industries will refuse to continue employment or hire them due to safety concerns.
If you cannot keep working due to the loss of vision in one eye, and you have disability insurance coverage, you might be eligible for benefits. Discuss options with a disability insurance lawyer.
What You Need to Prove
To be eligible for disability insurance benefits, you must prove to the insurer that you have a qualifying disability that prevents you from working. Blindness is a disability, though the challenging part is showing that blindness in one eye truly keeps you off the job.
To you, blindness in one eye is a devastating change in your life that you experience every minute of every day. To an insurance company, blindness in one eye is not “as bad” as blindness in both eyes. Insurers often downplay this condition since you still have a good eye.
The main obstacle to getting benefits is demonstrating that your blind eye prevents you from earning a living. For example, if you are a surgeon, work in construction, or drive a commercial vehicle, it might be easily proveable that you can no longer work with one blind eye. However, for other professions that do not require such precise vision, it might be an uphill battle to prove your claim.
A disability attorney will know what evidence an insurance company needs and can build a strong case for your benefits.
Own Occupation vs. Any Occupation
One important distinction for blindness in one eye is between “own occupation” coverage and any occupation coverage. Own occupation coverage means you can receive benefits if you can no longer work in your previous occupation. Any occupation coverage means you only qualify for benefits if your disability keeps you from any type of work – whether it is related to your chosen profession or not.
Some long-term disability policies remain own occupation the entire time. This means that if your blindness in one eye prevents you from doing your usual work, such as performing surgery, you can receive benefits indefinitely, and your insurance company does not expect you to look for different types of work.
However, most policies start as own occupation and then switch to any occupation after 24 or 48 months. This means that you might begin receiving benefits if you cannot perform your specific job. After the time frame passes, you will then need to prove you cannot work at all – in any capacity – to continue receiving benefits. Otherwise, your insurer expects you to find work you can perform with one blind eye.
People might perform many jobs with one good eye, so any occupation coverage often means that benefits end. Your attorney can help you determine how long you might qualify for disability benefits under your policy.
Disability Benefits for Accompanying Conditions
Even if you cannot get approved for disability benefits simply because of your blindness in one eye, you might qualify for benefits based on underlying or accompanying health conditions, which are common absent an eye injury.
For example, if your blindness resulted from a stroke, you might have other effects of the stroke that also cause disabilities. The same might be true of leukemia, multiple myeloma, brain tumors, or other serious conditions that caused your blindness. Even migraines that result in blindness can be debilitating enough that they might prevent you from working and qualify for disability benefits.
One thing your attorney will do is examine your entire health picture and all conditions that might be keeping you out of work. If your blindness alone is not enough at the time, you might have other disabling conditions that your insurance company should consider.
Possible Temporary Disability Benefits
Some people with blindness in one eye can adjust to living with one good eye over time. With time, occupational therapy, and other measures, they can reach a point where they can safely drive and live their usual lives despite their blindness.
If you only need some time off to adjust to your condition, and then you can return to work safely, you might seek temporary disability benefits instead of long-term. Your attorney can advise you of your best options under your policy.
Why You Need a Disability Claims Attorney Handling Your Claim
You need a long-term disability insurance lawyer to prove that blindness in one eye prevents you from working indefinitely. You will have the best chance of success if you have a disability claims lawyer preparing your claim and negotiating with your insurer.
If you received a denial of disability benefits, you need to call a disability attorney immediately.
The appeals process is highly specific and complex if you have an employer-sponsored plan under ERISA. Any small mistake can cost you a lifetime of benefits, so you need an experienced professional attorney to handle this process.
Following graduation from Loyola Law School in New Orleans in 1990, Price McNamara served as a Federal Judicial Law Clerk to the Honorable John M Shaw, Chief Judge, United States District Court Western District of Louisiana.
Mr. McNamara founded J. Price McNamara ERISA Insurance Claim Attorney, and began putting his past experience to work for the injured and disabled clients he now represents against the insurance companies in personal injury and long term disability and other insurance disputes in both federal and state courts