Chapman V Unumprovident
$32 Million Verdict Against UnumProvident – Pillsbury & Coleman Attorneys Obtain Record Verdict
On January 23, 2003, attorney Terrence J. Coleman of Pillsbury & Coleman obtained the largest jury verdict in the history of Marin County by a factor of over three times. The jury rendered a verdict in favor of Pillsbury & Coleman’s client, Dr. Randall Chapman, and against UnumProvident Corporation in the amount of $31,700,000. It was the second-largest verdict in the nation in a UnumProvident lawsuit.
Attorney Coleman proved that UnumProvident acted with malice and fraud toward Dr. Chapman and that it denied his claim in bad faith. The trial lasted three months. Dr. Chapman was an eye surgeon in Novato, California. He practiced in Novato, performing eye surgery for 20 years. In 1983 he purchased a disability insurance policy from Provident Life & Accident Insurance Company. In 1987, he purchased another disability policy from The Paul Revere Life Insurance Company. In connection with this policy, the insurance company issued him a “specialty letter,” promising him that he was insured in his particular specialty as an eye surgeon. He faithfully paid his premiums every month for the 17 years from 1983 until 1999.
Beginning in the late 1990s, Dr. Chapman started to develop extreme anxiety regarding his surgery, including panic attacks, shaking hands, diarrhea, vomiting, and sleepless nights. He also began to suffer some complications in some of his surgeries. He voluntarily took himself off the surgery schedule until he could determine what was wrong and how to fix it. He was eventually diagnosed by a psychiatrist as having a “specific phobia,” a psychiatric condition in which a person reacts with excess panic to a particular stimulus. Unfortunately for Dr. Chapman, it occurred in the operating room. No longer able to safely operate on his patients, Dr. Chapman’s psychiatrist told him to retire from eye surgery and suggested that he submit a claim to his disability insurance company.
By this time, Dr. Chapman’s insurance companies had merged and formed UnumProvident Corporation, which boasted that it was the largest disability insurance company in the world. At the trial, it was revealed that UnumProvident’s claims department intentionally attempted to read the medical records in a manner calculated to result in a denial of his claim. The company also held a secret “roundtable” meeting in which the notes and documents were destroyed according to company policy. In addition, the company failed to have Dr. Chapman properly examined by an unbiased physician, falsely claimed that his condition could be treated successfully, falsely claimed that he was not even an eye surgeon, called him a fraud, and ultimately denied his claim in order to meet monthly and quarterly termination goals.
During the trial, the jury heard extensive testimony that UnumProvident has a long history of unfairly denying claims. Testimony included the court appearance of multiple UnumProvident vice presidents in charge of claims, the videotaped testimony of UnumProvident’s president, former high-level executive vice president, and the testimony of former and current UnumProvident employees. The jury found that Dr. Chapman was totally disabled from his occupation and was entitled to disability benefits for the rest of his life amounting to $1,551,301.00, emotional distress damages of $125,000, and punitive damages of $30 million.
After the trial, the judge reduced these amounts. She ordered the jury’s verdict be reduced to reflect disability insurance benefits of $1,112,405.00, emotional distress damages of $15,000.00, and punitive damages of $5 million. Attorney Coleman has strongly objected to this improper order and has appealed it. UnumProvident has appealed the bad faith and punitive damage awards.