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Parents Of Teen Challenge CIGNA Over Emotional Distress

Posted by Jane Akre
Friday, October 09, 2009 12:54 PM EST
Category: Protecting Your Family
Tags: Big Insurance, CIGNA, Wendell Potter, Center for Media and Democracy, ERISA, Wrongful Death, Emotional Distress. Sarkisyan

The Parents of Nataline Sarkisyan will challenge CIGNA insurance over the emotional distress the company caused the family in the aftermath of the death of their daughter.

Mother Gets The Bird At Company Headquarters


IMAGE SOURCE: Los Angeles Times Web site/ image of Nataline Sarkisyan

The family of a 17-year-old teen who died after CIGNA insurance denied her liver transplant, has refiled a lawsuit against the company charging emotional distress.

The complaint stems from a 2008 incident at CIGNA headquarters in Philadelphia.

Hilda Sarkisyan desperately wanted a liver transplant for her daughter, Nataline, but CIGNA Corp refused to pay. After much public outrage, CIGNA reversed itself on the day of Nataline’s death, December 20, 2007.

Outraged, Hilda and supporters went to CIGNA’s headquarters to seek an apology, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Inside the building the San Fernando Valley real estate agent said “You guys killed my daughter,” and demanded an apology.

Instead, some employees heckler her and one made an obscene gesture.

"They showed me their true colors," she said. "Shame on them” she tells the Times. "They kill a beautiful 17-year-old girl, and I get to go after them for a finger? That's sick," Hilda Sarkisyan said.

CIGNA has since apologized for the incident, but it was the last straw for Hilda and her husband, Grigor, who, after being denied a wrongful-death suit, refiled claiming emotional distress from the incident at CIGNA headquarters.

Wrongful-Death Complaint Dismissed

A Los Angeles judge had thrown out the wrongful-death complaint saying the couple was barred by a 1987 U.S. Supreme court ruling that protects employer-paid insurance plans from coverage decisions.

But U.S. District Judge Gary Allen Feess says the Sarkisyans can pursue damages for emotional distress caused by CIGNA.

CIGNA had said at the time that the operation was experimental and not covered. Then nine days later after bad publicity, it reversed itself.

Former CIGNA spokesman, Wendell Potter, quit his well-paying job, partially over the Sarkisyan decision, he tells IB News. He has joined the nonprofit, Center for Media & Democracy, to speak out about how the industry works and profits.

He blogs regularly about health care reform as much of it involves insurance reform.

Americans Losing Their Right To Court Remedies

Like the Feres Doctrine, which prevents military medical malpractice lawsuits, and tort reform caps that effectively preclude many malpractice lawsuits, Americans are prevented from suing employee insurance provider plans under ERISA or the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, which governs employee retirement funds and benefits.

Under ERISA, employees can challenge only the cost of the service they are disputing.

Since the cost of undertaking a mammoth challenge against the insurance industry often precluding the cost of what they can recover, most lawyers are unwilling to take on employer provided insurance plans. End result- employees have no recourse in the court.

Workplace health plans are a source of insurance for about 132 million Americans and their dependents.

Wendell Potter agrees the system is stacked in favor of large insurance companies.

"HMOs and insurers are largely free to deny access to care without fear of reprisal or financial consequences," Potter said in a speech


The industry says without protections they might have to close their doors.

Consumer groups and the late Sen. Edward Kennedy want to overturn ERISA.

"Patients should have the right to hold their HMO accountable in court when its negligence causes the injury or death of a patient," Kennedy told Senate colleagues. "No other industry in America enjoys immunity from accountability for its actions, and the insurance industry does not deserve it either."

Santa Monica-based group, Consumer Watchdog, has joined the parents of Nataline to ask Congress to close the legal loophole that bars 132 Americans from having their day in court. President Jamie Court said Nataline's case shows why such a move is crucial to any healthcare reform.

"If the insurer decides they don't want to pay for the treatment because they can save a lot of money, there is not a dime available in damages if the person dies or is injured," Court said. "It's cheaper to kill you. If you die, you can't go to court." #

1 Comment

Posted by Rebecca
Monday, October 12, 2009 11:06 AM EST

I hope this family wins their lawsuit. It is disgraceful what Cigna and their employees have done to this family. First denying their daughter a surgery necessary to save her life and then heckling and flipping them off? Wow, what a classy company! I'm a strong believer in Karma and I hope in this case, Cigna gets what they deserve.

Comments for this article are closed.

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