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Another Insurance Nightmare

Heather Smith's tribulations included not only Tom Luther's assault, but also attacks by insurance companies and their lawyers.

LuAnn Ritchie of the Victims Compensation Division of the Denver District Attorney's office says it isn't unusual for victims of violent crime to be bankrupted by the experience.

"Less than 20 percent are insured at all, unless it's Medicaid or Medicare," she says. "And those that are soon find out that insurance doesn't protect us as much as we'd like to believe."

For instance, she says, most insurance policies have inadequate or no benefits for the psychological counseling crime victims need. "And unless they're employed by a major corporation, most victims' insurance coverage doesn't include dental assistance. But these sorts of crimes often involve head injuries, broken jaws, missing teeth."

Although she is prohibited from discussing specific cases, Ritchie says some insurance companies will try to get out of paying benefits with such claims as the victim didn't notify them on time. Or, companies will argue, as in Smith's case, that the victim somehow was at fault.

The most ludicrous, and most common, of the excuses, Ritchie says, "is when they say, 'We're terribly sorry, but we can't pay because you didn't ask your primary-care physician if it was okay to go to that particular hospital.' Of course, the victim was all bloody and lying on the street and had no real choice, but that doesn't matter: The rules are the rules.

"It would be comical if it wasn't so tragic."
For Heather Smith, the tragedy finally seems to be dissipating. Judge Spriggs, saying that Smith had a "remarkable recollection" of detail, determined that Luther was guilty and sentenced him to 50 years in prison, a term to run consecutively after the 48 years Luther got for killing Cher Elder.

"It was vindication for all the questions from the insurance companies, the cross-examination by Lauren Cleaver, for all the nightmares and pain," Smith says now. "Finally, someone in a position of authority to make a decision about my life believed what I had to say.

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