"She's a remarkable woman," says Levy. "She has never described herself as a victim. But she does have a high sense of integrity, and to be called a liar for four years bothered her a great deal."

As the jury hands over its verdict, Jennifer Latham already knows that vindication is at hand. She knows she's right. She's going to win.

And Time Insurance is about to discover just how badly it has miscalculated: about the routine business of taking away people's health insurance, about this Boulder jury, about its own by-the-numbers defense — and, most of all, about Jennifer Latham.

Mark Manger
Sending a message: Latham attorneys Marc Levy (seated) and Joshua Proctor asked the jury for $7 million in damages — and won one of the largest bad-faith verdicts ever awarded in Colorado.
Mark Manger
Sending a message: Latham attorneys Marc Levy (seated) and Joshua Proctor asked the jury for $7 million in damages — and won one of the largest bad-faith verdicts ever awarded in Colorado.

Five years ago, everything seemed to be falling in place for Latham. She was changing careers, raising four kids and living in a five-bedroom house in Longmont that her second husband, a savvy and successful real-estate agent, had found at a bargain price. At 35, she felt she was finally on the right track.

Raised in rural Michigan, Jennifer had earned an honors degree in elementary education and married the boy next door. Inspired by the writings of Jack Kerouac, the couple moved to Colorado in 1997. Jennifer found a job at a preschool in Broomfield that offered free daycare for their two daughters. Over the next four years she moved to Boulder, then Lafayette, divorced her first husband, became a director for Children's World Learning Centers and married Alex Latham.

The Lathams soon had two more children, Eden and Jackson. Alex's business was taking off, and Jennifer decided to quit her job to stay at home with the children while studying for her own real-estate license. By the fall of 2005, she was putting in eighteen miles a day on a stationery bike, doing yoga and working on having a body like Jennifer Lopez. "I was in the best shape of my life," she says now.

It all came apart in a heartbeat, a block from home, during a trip to the grocery store.

On Sunday, October 23, she was preparing for a visit from her parents, who were going to watch the kids while she and Alex headed for the Vegoose music festival in Las Vegas, featuring Dave Matthews and Widespread Panic; a friend had backstage passes. She and Alex got in their Hyundai and headed to King Soopers for supplies.

A few blocks away, Shawn Todaro checked the mirrors on his rented Silverado and saw a state trooper quietly tailing him. A parolee with a record of drug, weapon and theft charges stretching back to 1992, Todaro wasn't planning to get stopped. Not with 87 grams of methamphetamine, worth about $13,000, hidden in the floor of his truck.

Todaro took off. He blasted through a stop sign at 23rd and Collyer and T-boned the Hyundai, pushing it through a fence and into a tree, crumpling it like a soda can. The trooper arrived moments later. Todaro struggled with the officer, pulled a gun and fled on foot, leaving behind his meth and the screams of the people in the other vehicle.

Eight days later, police tracked Todaro's cell phone to a house in Fort Collins. He surrendered after a five-hour standoff. He pleaded guilty to vehicular assault and several related charges; Boulder District Judge Lael Montgomery gave him thirty years.

The Lathams had already received their sentence: shattered legs, lacerations, head trauma, internal injuries. If two emergency rescue workers hadn't lived yards from the crash and responded immediately with their equipment, the couple might not have survived at all.

Jennifer's parents, Jim and Sheila Shields, learned of the accident while on their way to Colorado from Michigan. They drove through the night and went straight to the hospital. Sheila could scarcely believe that the battered figure in the ICU was her daughter.

"She was so swollen," she recalls. "Cuts and bruises all over her. She was in and out of consciousness. She was talking about toilet-paper people. She didn't realize she was married to her second husband. She was all over the place."

Jennifer's own recollections of those first few weeks of rehabilitation are hazy. Her first post-accident memory is of being wheeled into a shower, realizing that she couldn't walk or bathe herself. She didn't recognize her own sister. She drifted off from conversations.

"I had to relearn everything," she says. "Who I was. That I had kids. I had to learn how to walk. Then they had to put bracelets on my ankles because I wanted to escape."

She returned home in December, with her father appointed as a temporary legal guardian. One of the challenges facing her parents — along with taking care of toddlers who barely knew them, driving Jennifer to medical appointments, getting the older kids to and from school, visiting Alex at another hospital — was figuring out why the insurance company wasn't paying her bills.

When she left her job at Children's World, Jennifer had relinquished her group insurance, too. Her two older daughters were covered by her first husband's insurance, but she kept bugging Alex to get health insurance for them and the two youngest. Tired of waiting, she'd called an insurance agent named Jennifer Smith in May, five months before the accident, and had arranged a short-term policy for the family through Assurant Health, one of Time Insurance's entities.

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