Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Not In Good Hands

To say Oxford's behavior was egregious and unconscionable is an understatement. LATimes (06.26.07):
"U-Haul International Inc. has had its share of courtroom dramas, but none quite like one involving its corporate sister, Oxford Life Insurance Co.

When Oxford balked at paying a modest claim from a badly injured policyholder, it was hammered with a $39-million verdict. The judge denounced Oxford's conduct as the worst he'd ever seen."

Corporate sibling called 'mean-spirited'

"The policyholder, West Virginia farmer Charles Kocher, had long wanted a Ford pickup. In 1999, at the urging of his wife, who was dying of cancer, he tapped their savings for a down payment on a used truck. Kocher paid Oxford more than $700 for a credit insurance policy that would pay off the $11,563 loan if he suffered dismemberment or death."

"Soon afterward, Kocher's right foot was crushed in a tractor accident. He had several surgeries that amounted to a progressive amputation of his foot and lower leg."

"Oxford (like U-Haul a subsidiary of Amerco) made a few loan payments on the pickup, then stopped for several months. Kocher later testified that a 'very nasty' Oxford representative told him: 'We're not paying the loan off because it's not a full amputation.'"

"The agent also accused him of deliberately maiming himself to collect on the policy, Kocher said."

The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals elaborates (06.17.04):

"According to detailed findings of fact later made by the circuit court, Oxford engaged in substantial litigation misconduct during the pre-trial period - including failure to comply with discovery requests; giving false information about other claims filed against Oxford in West Virginia; and improper deposition conduct.

The trial court found that Oxford's litigation misconduct was a continuing pattern of misconduct, and not 'isolated occurrences.' Our review indicates that the court's findings were well-grounded in the record."

Kocher v. Oxford Life Insurance, No. 31539

"In addition, the circuit court found that Oxford had engaged in a particular instance of extreme litigation misconduct. On or about February 6, 2002, Oxford's Senior Vice President, Larry Goodyear, the company's second-in-command, traveled from the company's office in Arizona to West Virginia, via Pittsburgh, for Mr. Goodyear's deposition. (The trial of the case was set for March of 2002.) In connection with that trip, Mr. Goodyear's secretary in Arizona called Mr. Kocher's home and pretended to be a Federal Express employee who was seeking directions to deliver a package to Mr. Kocher. Using this ruse, the secretary obtained driving directions to Mr. Kocher's house, and relayed those directions to Mr. Goodyear, who paid a visit to Mr. Kocher at Mr. Kocher's home near St. Mary's, West Virginia - and then drove to Huntington, West Virginia, to Mr. Goodyear's attorney's office."

To say the appellate Court was royally pissed would also an understatement: "We observe that the compelling facts of the instant case and applicable law fully support the trial court's ruling imposing sanctions. It should be emphasized that this is not a case of one private litigant innocently seeking to talk directly with another litigant without either party's counsel being present. Rather, this is a case where a sophisticated corporation deliberately lied to a litigant for the purpose of contacting the litigant without his counsel's knowledge, and improperly sought to influence the litigant to settle the case."

Not too long after this decision, Oxford settled for $12.8 million.



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