There is no question that ERISA provides many litigation benefits. But it doesn’t provide them as a boon to employers, administrators and their lawyers. Instead, the preemption of state laws, limited litigation, flexible plan design, and (especially) the availability of deferential review, are direct results of the careful balancing act that Congress engaged in when it created ERISA. There can be little question that the growth in employee benefits since the 1970s has been due, in no small part, to the balance that Congress chose.
As any child on a see-saw quickly learns, however, balance is something that has to be actively maintained. It is the job of defense counsel to constantly remind courts that the plaintiff at bar is not merely an isolated individual looking for benefits, but a member of a larger class of existing and future beneficiaries whose rights can be injured in absentia by the court’s decision. Courts cannot and should not allow a call for compassion in an individual case to supplant the goal of increased benefits across the board. By describing the relevant congressional policies to the court, defense counsel can help to ensure that the court understands what interests are really at stake, and acts to protect them.