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A California jury has awarded $31.7 million in damages to an eye surgeon whose phobia left him afraid to operate and whose disability payments were cut off by an insurance company. The recent award, including $30 million in punitive damages, came after a three-month trial in which UnumProvident Corp. of Chattanooga, Tenn., was accused of bad faith and breach of �contract by Dr. Randall Chapman. Chapman v. UnumProvident, No. CV012323, (Marin Co., Calif., Super. Ct.). UnumProvident, the nation’s biggest disability insurer, has lost similar suits and is facing hundreds of others brought by policyholders who allege they were denied benefits so the company could increase its profits. “The verdict sends a clear and concise message that UnumProvident’s quest to bolster its bottom line at the expense of its insureds will not be tolerated,” said Chapman’s attorney, Arnold R. Levinson of San Francisco’s Pillsbury & Levinson. UnumProvident’s attorney, Horace Green of San Francisco’s Barger & Wolen, did not return calls seeking comment. A statement released by the company notes that it will “aggressively challenge this judgment. The company will be filing for post-trial relief and, if necessary, to the California Court of Appeal. “While understanding that physicians can disagree on the level of impairment for any patient, there is no disagreement that Dr. Chapman declined to follow the advice rendered by his treating physicians designed to get him back to work,” the company statement said. “The company strongly disagrees that the evidence supported a finding that our handling of Dr. Chapman’s claim was unreasonable, fraudulent or malicious.” According to Levinson, after decades of performing eye surgery, Chapman, an ophthalmologist, started having panic and anxiety attacks when it came time to operate. Levinson said there was no specific cause, but rather cumulative stress that left Chapman with shaky hands. A psychiatrist told Chapman he should stop doing surgery. Chapman did so, and filed a long-term disability claim with UnumProvident under policies he had had for some 20 years. UnumProvident paid Chapman $11,600 monthly for three months, then cut off his benefits in September 2000 after a review of the case by the company’s own doctors. Chapman sued in 2001. Levinson said the review of his client’s claim “zipped through the UnumProvident claims department in one day, right before the end of the the company’s third quarter. We showed evidence that the claims people were under pressure to deny claims to meet quarterly profit goals. They denied the practice, but we had documents showing they were ordering claims killed.” Levinson also brought in witnesses who worked for UnumProvident, including company executives, who testified that documents were destroyed and that “if there were not enough terminations, claims people would have to find more.” UnumProvident’s statement asserted that ‘[t]wo doctors on our staff and two nurse disability caseworkers … reached the conclusion that Dr. Chapman’s reported limitations were unsupported” and that he had improved enough to return to work. In November, U.S. District Court Judge James Larson in San Francisco issued an injunction ordering UnumProvident to “obey the law” and enjoined it from “future bad-faith violations” of its practices on evaluating claims and benefits. UnumProvident denied any wrongdoing. The injunction was at least in part the result of a number of lawsuits won against UnumProvident by San Francisco lawyers Ray Bourhis and Alice Wolfson, of the firm of Bourhis & Wolfson. It was also hit with a $36.7 million bad-faith verdict by a federal jury in Tampa, Fla., in June 2001. The award was all for punitive damages, said Frank Winkles of the Winkles Law Firm in Tampa. Paul Revere Life Insurance Co., which is a part of UnumProvident, settled the benefits claim, but the plaintiff still sought damages. The company has appealed the punitives award. Tedesco v. Paul Revere Life, No. 8:99CV2552-T-27MAP.

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