A U.S. District Court judge on Wednesday issued a stunning rebuke to the nation’s largest disability insurance company, finding that a predecessor of UnumProvident had violated the California Unfair Competition Act.
In a sharply worded, 62-page verdict, Magistrate Judge James Larson of the Northern District of California said the Paul Revere Life Insurance Co. now owned by giant UnumProvident of Tennessee had acted in bad faith in denying a disability claim by Joan Hangarter, a Berkeley chiropractor who became unable to practice because of back and arm pains.
In February, a jury awarded Hangarter $7.67 million for her past and future benefits, emotional distress, attorney’s fees and punitive damages. Larson upheld that verdict and ordered the insurer to obey the law.
Hangarter’s attorney, Ray Boursis of San Francisco firm Boursis & Wolfson, had said UnumProvident tried to increase profit by systematically denying some disability claims, including going after long-term, high-payment claims. The insurer denied that charge.
Larson appeared to agree that the company had engaged in such practices. His decision enjoined it from future violations, including “targeting categories of claims or claimants, employing biased medical examiners, destroying medical records, and withholding from claimants information about their benefits.”
“This is the first time to my knowledge that any court has found it necessary to issue an injunction against an insurer to order them to start obeying the law,” Boursis said.
UnumProvident could not be reached for comment.