Editor’s Choice: Jury Awards Edition
- Insurer on the hook for $34 million for denying Alzheimer’s coverage
A 90 year-old woman was awarded $34 million dollars in a lawsuit brought by her daughter against an insurance company that refused to cover her Alzheimer’s treatment.
In 1997, Montana resident Arlene Hull purchased long term care insurance with her husband, Bill. Her husband died but Arlene continued to pay the premiums. In 2007, she was diagnosed with dementia and moved into an assisted-living home because she was not able to care for herself.
“Long term care policy holders are responsible people who don’t want to be a burden to others and should not be wrongfully denied benefits under these policies,” said Hull’s attorney Daniel Bidegaray.
Although the insurer began covering her, the company sold its long term policies to a new insurer, Ability Insurance Co., that reviewed her care and cut off her benefits in January 2010. Although the company reinstated her benefits in October 2011, it refused to pay for the period Hull went without benefits.
Hull’s daughter sued Ability Insurance for breach of contract and for violating unfair business practices laws.
Although Hull did not testify in person, the 7-person jury saw a video of the elderly Hull, who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
The jury unanimously awarded Hull $250,000 for breaking its insurance contract, $2 million for unfair business practices, and $32 million designed to punish the insurer. Bidegaray said after the verdict that Montana caps punitive damages at $10 million and expects the insurance company to move to reduce the award.
- Multiple stroke patient wins $4.2 million against doctors
A woman who suffered multiple strokes won a lawsuit against her family physician in a $4.2 million jury verdict.
Sandra Powell was admitted to the hospital after suffering multiple strokes. Three months after her discharge, she suffered another “massive” stroke that left her partially blind and with severe memory loss.
Powell and her husband sued her family physician, Dr. Joseph Seprosky Jr. for medical malpractice. Their attorney contended that the doctor failed to pay enough attention to a report from a neurologist sent to him after Powell was discharged from the hospital, indicating she was at high risk for another stroke.
The jury awarded Powell, a former manager at a supermarket who can no longer work, $3.7 million and $500,000 to her husband, Thomas. Another doctor at the hospital was exonerated of any negligence.
“Hopefully this brings a measure of comfort and closure for Mr. and Mrs. Powell,” said the couple’s attorney, Bruce Zero. He said the money would “help their needs going forward and into the future.”
- Police must pay $1.3 million for shooting unarmed man
Police were found liable for $1.3 million in the shooting death of a man who had bipolar disorder.
Eustaquio Rodriguez, a police officer in Gilroy, Calif., shot and killed Gurmit Singh, 33, along the highway in 2008. Singh, a truck driver, had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder that was normally controlled. On the fatal night, his family had picked him up after he became ill and they got into a violent dispute. Singh got out on the highway and ran off into the dark.
Rodriguez claimed he came upon Singh lying on the side of the road but that Singh tried to tackle him and take away his gun. He shot Singh in the chest and kept his gun pointed at him instead of giving him first aid, even though he was trained as an EMT. Three officers arrived as back-up and then Tasered Singh while he thrashed around on the ground. He died on the way to the hospital.
Singh’s wife sued the city for excessive force, arguing that Rodriguez didn’t have to use his gun and could have used the Taser, baton or pepper spray he was carrying instead.
According to the Singh’s attorney, Karen Snell, an important piece of evidence was that the officer was talking on his cell phone during the entire incident, with the phone in his left hand while he shot Singh with a gun in his right hand.
An eyewitness testified that the two men were 6 to 8 feet apart from each other when the officer fired his gun.
Snell emphasized that the lawsuit only claimed the police officer was reckless – not evil.
“People appreciate what a difficult job the police have, so while we ask for punitive damages, no one thought that Rodriguez was an evil person,” Snell said. “It’s just that he was reckless and cost a man his life.”
The jury awarded $1.25 million to Sigh’s wife, Paramjit Kaur, and children. But the jury also found Singh 50 percent at fault for his own death, which could cut the verdict in half. The jury did not find the other three back-up officers at fault.
- Drug maker ordered to pay $1.1 billion for lying about Risperdal
An Arkansas judge ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $1.1 billion to the state after a jury found the company lied about the antipsychotic drug Risperdal, downplayed its risks and deceptively touted it as safer than competitors, and marketed it for unapproved uses including for the elderly and children.
State Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said he sued the company because he believed consumers needed to be protected from “fraud and deceptive practices.”
This is the third such verdict over Risperdal. Juries in Louisiana and South Carolina also found the company violated consumer protection laws.
The lawsuit accused Johnson & Johnson of lying in letters to doctors that marketed the drug as safer than competitor drugs and of failing to outline the risks of diabetes and other side effects in its warning label.
The company is also under a federal investigation by the Department of Justice for marketing the drug for unapproved uses after being warned not to.
McDaniel said after the verdict that the jury found that the drug company “lied to patients and doctors because they cared more about profits than people.”
Risperdal’s sales peaked at $4.5 billion in 2007, continued to generate $3.4 billion in sales in 2008, but sales dropped off to approximately $500,000 in 2010.