Atwood Doctrine Law and Legal Definition

Atwood doctrine refers to a principle that when there is a conflict between the Employment Retirement Income Security Act Plan (ERISA) and its summary-plan description, regarding the circumstances under which benefits may be denied, the summary-plan description controls. The standard was set by the court in Atwood v. Newmont Gold Co., 45 F.3d 1317 (9th Cir. 1995) where in the court held that The Employment Retirement Income Security Act requires that a summary plan description explain the circumstances which may result in disqualification, ineligibility, or denial or loss of benefits. [29 U.S.C.S. § 1022(b)]. Where the summary plan description fails to meet this requirement and differs materially from the terms of the plan, the summary plan description is controlling.

Summary plan is an outline of an employee benefit plan under ERISA. It contains information such as the identity of the plan administrator, the requirements for eligibility and participation in the plan, circumstances that may result in disqualification or denial of benefits, and the identity of any insurers responsible for financing or administering the plan.