McDowell v. Krawchison
125 F.3d 954 (6th Cir. 1997)


  • McDowell worked at the Winton Road Chiropractic Center.
  • Winton Road was one of many clinics owned by John Krawchison.
  • The clinics provided health insurance to their employees.
  • Dr. Dennis Anderson bought the clinic from Krawchison and fired McDowell.
  • McDowell signed a release, waiving all claims related to his employment.
  • There was also some discussion about a continuation of the benefits.
  • McDowell’s wife, Sidovar, had breast cancer. When she sought pre-approval for medical treatment about nine months after McDowell’s termination, she learned that she didn’t have insurance coverage.
  • McDowell and Sidovar then filed suit against Krawchison and Winton Road alleging violation of the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) in addition to several state claims.

The district court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs against both defendants.

(1) COBRA notice.
(2) The effect of the release.



(1) COBRA notice.

  • COBRA imposes a statutory requirement that a plan administrator notify “any qualified beneficiary” of his or her right to continue health insurance coverage for up to eighteen months after a “qualifying event” (i.e., termination).
    • “Qualified beneficiary” includes the spouse of a covered employee.
    • If the administrator fails to provide that notice to the qualified beneficiary, it may be bound to provide coverage to her.
  • Here, the court held that even if the notice to McDowell was legally sufficient, it did not meet the statutory requirement as to Sidovar.
    • She was entitled by statute to her own notice of her rights.
    • “A covered spouse has his or her own rights under COBRA, which are not dependent on the covered employee’s rights. For example, a covered spouse might choose to elect coverage while the covered employee does not, or they might choose different plans.”

(2) The effect of the release.

  • The release signed by McDowell could not have waived Sidovar’s COBRA rights.
  • “Her rights were in no way contingent on McDowell’s.Therefore, even if McDowell did waive his COBRA rights, he did not-and could not-waive Sidovar’s.”