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Flap with S.F. legal eagles lands insurer in court

San Francisco Business Times
By Jim Gardner
September 5, 2003

If you are going to go picking a fight with someone, 200 lawyers make a poor place to start. Not only that, but these are trial lawyers, mainly of the personal-injury and criminal defense variety.

Nonetheless, that's where insurer Health Net finds itself. The Woodland Hills-based company recently declined to renew the San Francisco Trial Lawyers Association's health plan, which the group has used for several years to offer coverage to attorneys and their families.

The trial lawyers' response? Need you ask?

In a lawsuit filed in San Francisco Superior Court last week the lawyers' association rolls out its assembled legal artillery and aims it at Health Net of California Inc. and parent company Health Net Inc. The suit accuses them of breach of contract, breach of the covenant of good faith dealing, fraud and unfair competition. It seeks the restoration of coverage and -- here's another surprise -- damages.

"It is particularly remarkable for the company to have done this to a group of lawyers," said a somewhat bemused Terrence Coleman. An association board member, Coleman's firm, Pillsbury & Coleman LLP, is representing the lawyers' association in the complaint.

Brad Kieffer, a spokesman for Health Net of California, would not respond to the specifics of the suit, simply saying "the plaintiffs are seeking a kind of coverage that is not legally available to them."

A hearing is set for Sept. 18 on an injunction to keep health coverage in place during the trial. And while the courtroom is a familiar atmosphere for Coleman and his compadres, being there on their own behalf is not.

"I've been on the board for a while," he said, "and this is the first lawsuit."

Fancy that.