When Oxford Life Insurance Co. denied paying a insurance claim for a severely injured policy holder, they were slammed with a $39 million verdict.
The policy was to pay off the remainder of his loan should he suffer dismemberment or death.
The policyholder, a West Virginia farmer, had longed for a Ford pickup truck for years. In 1999, at his wife’s urging, he used part of their savings as a down payment on a used truck. He paid over $700 for a credit insurance policy that was supposed to pay the remainder of the loan should he suffer dismemberment or death.
Soon after purchasing the truck, his foot was crushed in a tractor accident. He underwent several surgeries that led to a progressive amputation of his foot and lower leg.
Oxford made a few payments to the loan on the truck, but then stopped for many months. He later testified a “very nasty” representative of the company told him “We’re not paying the loan off because it’s not a full amputation.” Additionally, the agent accused him of maiming his leg deliberately to collect on the insurance policy.
He sued Oxford. While prepping for trial his lawyer found several complaints to state regulators from policyholders whose claims had been denied by what Oxford refers to as their Medical Board.
Oxford later admitted they have no Medical Board, and defended the term as a broad reference to their use of consulting doctors on occasion.
Citing a pattern of improper conduct by Oxford, including withholding information about other lawsuits, the judge punished the company by throwing out their defense and finding them liable by default.
The judge denounced “the extreme suffering inflicted upon the victim by a very mean-spirited, callous company.” he said that “in 31 years of practicing law and serving as a judicial officer, this court has never seen conduct of a more serious nature by a party.”
The jury awarded him $5 million in compensatory and $34 million in punitive damages. Oxford appealed, contending that nothing it had done warranted the judge’s severe sanction.